The Indiana Soccer Referee Committee is no longer allowing children under the age of 14 to work as paid referees. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s official policy is children 12 and older may referee. Indiana’s Referee Administrator, Samir Yasa, says he has been working with youth soccer for as long as he can remember and the policy has always been the same.
“In the past 40 some years, not just in Indiana but throughout the country, the Federation which is the governing body, has said that 12 years old is the age at which a child can start referring,” Yasa says.
Samir says some curious parents called the Indiana Department of Labor to verify the age requirement and the DOL responded with the Indiana Statute which states:
“A child less than 14 years of age may not be employed or allowed to work in any gainful occupation except as a farm laborer, domestic service worker, caddie for persons playing the game of golf, or newspaper carrier.”
According to the state, those are the only exceptions. To become a referee, a child must first go through more than 15 hours of classroom instruction. Twelve and 13 year-olds had already begun to train for this year’s season.
Robert Burkart’s 12-year-old son, Matthew was only days from going through the course when he discovered he wouldn’t be able to referee.
“He calls me and says, I’m on the website for the White House and I’m sending President Obama an e-mail saying that I don’t agree that its right not allowing kids who are 12 year-olds to be soccer referees. So, he read me his little blurb and it was pretty impressive for a little kid and I said, well, you probably need to send that to your state representative,” Burkart says.
Matthew sent a letter to his state representatives as well as the head men’s soccer coaches at all of the major universities in Indiana. His letter outlined why he believes 12 and 13 year olds should be able to referee.
“I wanted to get a job so I could make a little bit of money and learn responsibility and learn how a job is like and I was really excited and then they turned it down,” Burkart says.
The letter included multiple references to statutory exceptions from other states that specifically allow children to work as referees. Matthew has received letters of support back from his representatives as well as the head men’s soccer coaches of Evansville University and the University of Notre Dame.
Matthew’s family is waiting to see if the legislature will take up the issue in the next session.
Some children under the age of 14 had already completed the training course and the Soccer Referee Committee is offering a full refund or a credit towards the earliest season when the children do qualify.