High school officials have been dwindling in numbers for years. It’s always been more difficult to get referees for afternoon sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse and field hockey, but now the issues are affecting the primetime sports like basketball and football.
According to District 1 Men’s Officials Representative Tom Brady, the numbers are dwindling because refs are getting older and are unable to get up and down the field or court. Young, prospective officials out of college are getting jobs that make it difficult to get to 3:30 p.m. afternoon games.
District 1 Women’s Officials Representative Maureen Gregory echoed Brady’s reasoning about the officials getting older and added that dealing with fans requires thick skin and not everyone is capable of handling it.
Suburban One League boy basketball referee assignor Tom Blackwell said another issue is District 1 officials covering such a large area and a large number of schools, plus being able to work Philadelphia Catholic League and Public League games in District 12.
After the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association cancelled winter championships and all spring sports Thursday afternoon due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, no one will be officiating any games for the foreseeable future.
While the coronavirus is having a negative impact across the world, there is a chance it could help the officials solve their numbers issue.
“We don’t know where the economy is going to be,” Brady said. “We might start getting people back. They might say, ‘I can make a couple bucks to help my family out.’ This might be a positive thing. I hate to say it, but I’m looking at it that way – this could be the trend to help get our people back. I don’t know. I’m hoping this could help us in the long run.”
“(Brady) really had a positive twist on it that I did not consider,” Blackwell, who was an official for 50 years, said. “I did not think that maybe because guys lose their job or get a salary cut, maybe they were an official and retired and said, ‘Let me come back.’ I think that could definitely be a possibility.”
“I was hoping for one thing with all this downtime if people have been thinking about (becoming an official) but maybe didn’t have the time to put into getting the book, studying and taking the test,” Gregory, an official since 2003, said, “maybe now that they have a little time they would do that. I don’t think (the coronavirus) will drive anyone away.”
One thing that may make it difficult for officials is needing to get clearances this year. PIAA officials are required to have three clearances — FBI, State Police and Child Abuse. The clearances are good for five years and are set to expire in 2020.
The FBI clearance requires going to a location to have your fingerprints captured, which is not possible while everything is closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everyone has to renew their clearances this year,” Blackwell said. “I’m not sure what impact that will have on officiating.”