The bright beam of the Friday night lights, the roar of the crowd and the Paly fight song are all part of what make Friday night football special to senior Sawyer McFarland. But a shortage of high school football referees means that Paly’s last two home games have been played on a Thursday night instead.
Due to a shortage of referees in the Central Coast Section on Friday nights, many schools, including Paly, have had to change their games to Thursdays to accommodate the shortage, according to CCS Commissioner David Grissom.
“The lack of officials has been an issue we have been seeing for a while,” Grissom said. “Now, with the pandemic, we’ve got even fewer people because many are concerned for their health, as most of our officials are in their 50s or 60s.”
Grissom said the culture of Friday night lights adds to the stress of needed referees. Many schools, such as Mountain View High School and Los Altos High School, have recently installed lights on their football field, allowing games to be played at night. This, in turn, adds to the demand for referees on Friday nights.
“Everyone wants to play games on Friday nights — it’s more fun under the bright lights, school spirit goes up — there’s a ton of reasons,” Grissom said. “But the reality is, there is too much stress on the system of officials. They cannot manage it. It’s too large for them.”
However, according to Grissom, Thursday night games might become the new normal.
“The shortage of referees will be an ongoing issue for a while until we’re able to recruit more and more officials,” Grissom said. “Paly will likely see more Thursday night games in the future.”
McFarland said for many players, the change in day has raised concerns about the team dynamic.
“Our team is really tight, and we love hanging out after games on Fridays to celebrate our wins,” McFarland said. “But because the past few games have been on a Thursday, we can’t really celebrate as hard as before because we all have school the next day.”
McFarland said a big part of the change in energy on Thursday night games is the lack of fans in the bleachers.
“Not a lot of people come to the Thursday games, which is understandable,” McFarland said. “I definitely see there’s a lot less hype about football games on Thursdays.”
However, McFarland says this doesn’t change his attitude and approach to the game.
“The change in day doesn’t really matter to me,” McFarland said. “Football is football whether there’s a crowd or not. I’m staying focused on doing whatever I need to do to help my team win.”
For many students like junior Cameron Toland, the change in day impacts the atmosphere and culture of the games.
“Ever since I was a freshman, I’ve really enjoyed going to Friday night football games mostly because they were on Fridays,” Toland said. “The energy is just so good on a Friday night — you’re not worried about school or homework the next day. I can’t say it’s quite the same with football games on Thursdays.”
However, cheerleader Dani Santos said it is enjoyable to watch the game from the stands with her friends regardless of the day.
“We usually don’t have to cheer at Thursday night games, so I get to sit with my friends which is really nice,” Santos said. “It’s definitely a much different perspective than when I’m cheering.”