Coronavirus pandemic could worsen WPIAL shortage of football officials

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Saturday, July 4, 2020 | 1:25 PM


The WPIAL doesn’t have enough football officials, and the coronavirus pandemic could make the shortage worse this fall.

At his final WPIAL meeting before retirement, longtime officials representative Bill Sinning warned the board last month there aren’t enough officials for every football team to play Friday nights. At least one game from all 17 conferences should move to Thursday or Saturday.

It’s a warning he first issued in October, before covid-19 came along.

“In a perfect 2020, we were hurting for officials,” Sinning said. “Add in the number of people who are starting to express concerns about playing under the covid-19 conditions, and it’s getting worse.”

Sinning represented WPIAL boys-sports officials for 14 years, a tenure that ended June 30.

There’s a well-documented shortage of high school officials nationwide, and the WPIAL isn’t immune. The WPIAL and PIAA have ongoing efforts to recruit new generations of officials. Many of the individuals wearing the black-and-white stripes are older, putting them at added risk for covid-19.

As a result, some might skip the season.

“There have already been a couple of people who said they were going to retire or they just weren’t doing it this year,” Sinning said. “All of which requires replacing that person on an existing football crew, and where (the replacement is) coming from is probably another crew. So things are in turmoil.”

There are five individuals who assign officials to regular-season football games across the WPIAL. Those “assignors” are hired by a conference’s athletic directors.

The WPIAL had 530 football officials last fall, but some don’t work varsity games.

“Assignors will be reaching out to schools to potentially change times or dates to allow for adequate coverage of events,” said WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman, referring to all sports, not only football.

Some assignors have requested a timely decision from football officials on whether they will or won’t work this fall. That’s a difficult decision to make right now, Sinning said.

“I don’t know how you can make the commitment with the way things change from day to day,” he said.

A retired basketball official, Sinning served seven terms as the boys-sports officials’ representative to the WPIAL board and didn’t run for reelection this year. Nick Morea was elected to the job.

Pam Cherubin oversees officials for WPIAL girls sports.

In October, Sinning warned the WPIAL leadership that many sports would soon face an officials shortage. This isn’t a football-only issue, he said, but football likely had the clearest solution.

“Football in my mind is easily fixed by playing one or two games in each (conference) a week on a day other than Friday night,” Sinning said. “I know that’s not an easy thing for the schools. It’s not easy because it involves school boards and superintendents. The athletic directors can’t just say, ‘Let’s play Thursday.’ I understand that.”

In Week 1 of last season, there were 59 WPIAL football games on Friday night and two Saturday. Sinning said he’d heard a couple of schools planning to move games but hadn’t noticed any across-the-board actions.

Schools currently face bigger issues.

“It’s hard for the schools to even plan this — when they’re going to play — because they’re not even sure if they’re open,” Sinning said. “There’s a possibility all the high schools could be virtual learning, so it’s hard to say.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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