The Kamloops Soccer Referees Association has worked hard over the years to get young people involved in officiating.
The work appears to be paying off - and if you don't believe it, head down to McArthur Island this week for the provincial A Cup soccer championships. The tournament, which starts today and ends Sunday, will feature 40 of the best youth soccer teams from around the province, all competing for provincial glory in 10 divisions.
The championships also will feature Kamloops' best officials, some of them under the age of 18. Neil Farber, secretary of the KSRA, noted that the association will have a "good contingent" at provincials, with about a quarter of its referees being youth-aged.
"This is all part of the development," Farber said.
Youth soccer is not only about producing athletes, but also officials. The referees you watched at Euro 2012 had to start somewhere, as do local officials.
Farber and the KSRA are aware of this.
"We could have some senior officials, like myself, working this weekend instead of (younger referees)," Farber said. "But I might not be reffing in three years . . . if my knee gives out or something. So who's going to get more out of reffing this weekend?
"The players, they're there because they want to get to nationals. We're there because we want to get to the next level, too."
The KSRA also will send five young referees to Surrey from July 19-22, where they will take part in the B.C. Summer Games.
For some of the younger officials, the provincial A Cup championships will be their biggest tournament to date. But, Farber points out, these teens won't be walking onto a field for the first time.
"These are all capable refs who can handle this," he said. "They aren't in their first years. They've done lots of games and tournaments, and this is just a step up for them."
The KSRA has worked hard trying to attract younger officials, but it hasn't always worked. Getting new officials is one challenge, but keeping them has been even tougher for the KSRA.
"We used to have a lot of turnover and something of a 'sink-or-swim' mentality," Farber said. "If an official quit or didn't want to ref anymore, it was kind of played off that they couldn't cut it and that was it.
"We're really combatting that - we want to help these kids."
One of the ways the KSRA is combatting the turnover is through a mentoring program, where a younger official will work alongside an older one and hopefully pick up tips. Also, the referee scheduler will make a note if a young official repeatedly declines assignments, so the senior officials can try to figure out the reason.
Farber and the rest of the association are hoping the changes work.
"We're kind of fumbling our way forward," Farber said, "but each year's getting better."
For a complete provincial A Cup schedule, please see Scoreboard.