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North Okangan football teams thriving, but more officials needed

Vernon’s sole football referee says kids are eager to play, but they won’t be able to without more officials
More officials are needed to cover high school and minor football games in the North Okanagan. (Keith Johnstone photo)

High school and minor football is growing in the North Okanagan, but there is currently a need to fill a dearth of referee positions in the Vernon area.

Jim Ferguson has been officiating football for more than 25 years, including the last nine in Vernon.

“I’m the only referee in Vernon and we need at least three for younger kids and at least four for high school,” said Ferguson, adding he’d like to see a total of five officials covering local football games.

He’s been an official for a number of sports, but says there’s something special about football.

“I’ve done officiating of basketball, volleyball, everything, but football is kind of nice because it can be up to six of you on the field and you’re a team of officials, and it’s kind of nice to be part of a group,” he said.

“You feel like you’re part of the game, you’re right on the field level with the kids. It’s very rewarding.”

People don’t need to have playing experience or an advanced knowledge of the game to start out as a football referee; all that’s required is the ability to run short distances.

For Ferguson, a former teacher and principal, getting to watch kids grow through the sport has been a highlight of his decades of officiating.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids that really struggled throughout junior high because they don’t fit in with a group, and then all of a sudden they wind up on a football team,” he said.

“There’s a place in football for everybody.”

Ferguson said the kids are eager to play, but “they won’t be able to play if we can’t get officials.”

“We’ve already had to move some games off because there was nobody around to do it,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson relishes having been on the field with excellent football players including Ben Hladik, a former Vernon Secondary School Panthers star who is now a linebacker for the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League.

Ferguson has also seen some Okanagan referees go on to officiate in the CFL.

Games are played from Wednesdays to Sundays, with high school football running Wednesday to Saturday and the younger atom kids playing on Sundays.

They make good use of the field at Okanagan College – “the best field in all the Okanagan,” as Ferguson calls it.

Refs get paid between $25 and $40 per game, depending on the age group.

Anyone interested in becoming a football official in the North Okanagan can contact Ferguson at 250-545-1553 or by email at

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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