WARREN - Howland girls soccer Joe Megyesi is implementing a new policy after every match, thanking the referees for their efforts.
The Tigers will either shake hands or fist bump the referees following the post-game handshake with the opposing team in a way to show sportsmanship to a group that doesn't get much support from players, coaches and fans, alike.
"That is one of the things I put in place for them this year because I know it's tough to be a referee, and I know a lot of times I get frustrated with them," Megyesi said. "I think that just shows respect for the game and the referees because I know they're trying to do their best out there, too."
Some of the referees at the Panera Bread High School Soccer Classic could use the handshakes, as it was their first experience at refereeing the high school level.
The Mahoning Valley Soccer Officials Association conducted the practical portion of their Ohio High School Athletic Association soccer refereeing course at the tournament. The course involves 25 hours of instruction, practical experience and an exam.
"It's an excellent program because it provides competent referees to do high school games," MVSOA president Paul Fennema said. "We're very proud of our students. They acquit themselves very well in games."
From the start of the Panera Bread tournament, the MVSOA has used the tournament as part of the training program, at the behest of the organizers.
This is because both parties realize the lack of qualified officials in the area at the high school level.
"There's a huge shortage of referees in our area," tournament co-director Rob Merlo said. "They're just not getting new referees, and they're getting older and retiring.
"If we can help in any way to help the training so we have more young referees come into the referee profession, if you would, we're happy to be a part of it."
This year's class boasts 12 candidates, which Fennema said is an average class. They range from individuals with some experience to individuals with none.
No matter the experience level, they practice both two-man and three-man refereeing to give them a feel of both systems, which are used at junior varsity and varsity levels.
"There are some referees that have zero games before today," Fennema said. "There are some that have done several years of games in the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) refereeing program. Every one of them brings different skills. If we have ones that are very skilled, we try to polish that skill. If we have ones that are new to this, we will bring them along, and they will be competent shortly."
Fennema praised the program and said all the referees in the association get along with each other and help each other grow outside of the training program.
"We have a very good mentoring system in the MVSOA," Fennema said. "The mentoring and the fellowship and the camaraderie is excellent. We take great pride in the jobs that we do."