AUSTIN (KXAN) — Eighteen high school football games, primarily in West Texas, have not had enough local officials to help referee the game, causing the Texas Association of Sports Officials to send in officials from major metro areas to help out.

“I never thought I would see the day that we had a shortage of football officials in Texas,” said the association’s Executive Director Michael Fitch.

However, that day has come after the association lost more than 1,000 of its members dating back to 2018. That mass exodus has caused its ranks to drop from roughly 16,000 to about 15,000.

While the pandemic has certainly played a role in the decline, Fitch said aggressive fan and parent behavior has become even more of a problem.

“We’re OK if you want to yell, scream about, ‘you missed that,’ that’s fine,” Fitch said. “What we’re more concerned with is physical encounters in the parking lot when officials are going to and from the games.”

Currently, high school football officials are paid between $105 to $185 per varsity game depending on a combination of how many fans attend the game and how far they travel to get there.

Fitch said the association is actively recruiting officials for all sports.

It currently has a program called “START” or “Students Today are Referees Tomorrow.” The idea is to recruit seniors in high school who love the sport they compete in but aren’t going to play at the collegiate level.

“In that program we challenge the high school varsity coaches of every sport, boys and girls, to identify three to five graduating seniors,” Fitch said.

TASO is currently accepting applications to be a referee on its website.