Before kickoff of this weekend's soccer game at Lenape High School, players from the Medford school will take a moment to recognize the men and women who work to make sure the game is played fairly and in accordance with the rules.

"At our school we created a letter to give to the referee that basically states that we thank them for their time," said senior Shom Dhar. "And then we're also going to give them a sticker or a drink, like a Gatorade, before the game."

Monday marks the start of the state's first Officials' Appreciation Week, created by a student ambassadors group within the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Addressing an "increasing shortage of officials across all sports" in New Jersey and nationwide, the initiative encourages captains and their teams to recognize the efforts of the more than 7,500 NJSIAA registered officials.

Ambassadors plan to designate one week per season to show their gratitude for referees and umpires.

"That little moment showing that you appreciate them coming out, it can mean a lot to them," Dhar said. "They are subject to a lot of harassment from coaches, parents, players, and it's a difficult job for them."

NJSIAA member schools are given the freedom to celebrate officials in any way they choose. Suggestions including presenting officials with a certificate of appreciation, introducing officials at the start of a game as they stand in the middle of the field or court, and offering them free admission to another school event.

"This is a great idea, and it's tremendous that it's coming from the kids," said multi-sport official Mike Whritenour in a press release. "Most good officials do it for the kids. We do it for them, and to respect the game. It means a lot that they would think of us like this."

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