high school girls' basketball game Highland referee

An ongoing officials’ shortage is a behind-the-scenes issue that could play a significant role for many schools when high school sports resume. Smaller crews may become the norm to make up for a lack of officials.

Will there be enough officials to go around when high school sports resume?

Virginia High School League (VHSL) officials can’t be sure. 

The overlap in the three sports seasons due to the pandemic, coupled with safety concerns by some older officials -- especially involving indoor sports -- is expected to make scheduling officials a challenge.

Smaller officiating crews may become the norm. 

"We may be looking at more two-man crews in basketball than we are three-man crews," said VHSL executive director Billy Haun. "We may be looking at football games that have four- or five-man crews rather than seven-man crews.

"There could be some limitations with our soccer officials. The officials' piece is going to be a challenge," he predicted.

Since many officials also work college games, there could be stiff competition for officials, especially for lacrosse, softball, baseball and football. For example, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, an NCAA Division III league, has rescheduled its fall season to coincide with the VHSL's modified calendar.

The VHSL will announce more information on the upcoming seasons on Thursday, Sept. 17, at which point schools will likely begin announcing their scheduling plans.

Locally, Prince William County’s directors of student activities are waiting for more concrete information from the VHSL before they meet to figure out how the winter, fall and spring seasons will play out.

“We have not met. We will meet after the VHSL determines regular season and tournament formats,” said Unity Reed High activities director Kevin Turner.

About the lack of officials, he said, “The referee associations have been on an aggressive hiring campaign for several years now. I suspect their personnel shortage will continue and more than likely be adversely impacted due to COVID-19.”

In Fauquier County, the activities directors at Liberty, Kettle Run and Fauquier expect they will have to use more creative scheduling despite truncated seasons. All three have received notice from their respective basketball associations pleading for games not to be slated on the usual Tuesday-Friday time frame to avoid an anticipated crush.

Kettle Run Activities Director Paul Frye said schools could vary the nights they play to spread out the officials.

"This week maybe it would be Monday-Thursday, the next Wednesday-Saturday,” he said, adding, "Maybe we will play more varsity doubleheaders so the same three-man crew could do both games instead of sending two sets."

Frye said Kettle Run has played varsity football games in recent years with only four officials, which is the usual assignment level for middle or junior high school games.

The association annually asks if its members would consider playing some games on a Thursday or Saturday to allow maximization of resources, an alternative that could be attempted in football, which constitutes the largest share of a school's total athletic budget.

"As an AD, I always have wanted Fridays due to the [larger] gate receipts," said Frye.

Liberty Activities Director Dean Spahr said exact answers aren't possible now until the final VHSL decree is released.

"We're still waiting to hear the schedules and what the timeline is going to be," he said. "Once we get that, then we'll start working. We don't have enough information yet."

The latest VHSL proposal calls for basketball to commence practices Dec. 7 with first contests set for Dec. 21. The remaining winter sports begin Dec. 14 and start play Dec. 28, so scheduling needs to start soon to line up officials and transportation.

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