Football refs could be wearing masks, gloves and using hand-held whistles if there is a season

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 | 6:32 PM

Referees could be wearing masks and gloves and using hand-held whistles in high school football games if proposed guidelines become the norm, and the PIAA moves forward with football season.

A local official said the possible uniform additions for those wearing stripes could take effect this fall if there is a season. A meeting for PIAA officials that could impact in-game protocol was scheduled for Wednesday.

“I have talked with people at the (National Federation of High Schools) and officials in Ohio and Texas and guys from other (local) chapters,” said Mike Snow, an official from Stowe Township who works in the West Penn chapter. “There is some concern about us possibly spreading (the virus) with whistles if we have it. They want us to social distance as much as we can.”

An umpire, Snow roams the center of the field.

“Our commissioner emailed all of us, and schools are concerned about safety, transportation and crowds, especially some of the smaller schools,” he said. “Some said they aren’t going to play.”

Concerns over the spread of germs during games, by players, coaches, officials or anyone else involved are, obviously, driving the need for new safety measures.

But are officials that at risk on the field?

According to the sports medicine advisory committee, “the ability to transfer (the virus) in an outside activity from a student to an official would be highly unlikely,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “It would have to be a rare occurrence. I think our people are well within their safety zone. And as importantly, it is an individual decision. If they don’t feel comfortable, they shouldn’t work, and they don’t need to work.”

The PIAA said last week it plans to proceed as normal with fall sports.

It has yet to be determined if Pennsylvania ultimately will cancel fall sports, move them to the spring, delay their start or leave the decision to play up to each school, such as Ohio has done.

Still, Lombardi does not expect a referee shortage.

“At this time, no,” he said. “Obviously, we are always looking to have more officials and we need more officials, but our officials rep in a work session we had (last week) certified to one of our committees that she felt the officials in her area are biting at the bullet and ready to go. They are disappointed about missing the spring. A lot of them are working recreational programs. They love sports.”

But Snow said he expects changes for officials, at least in football.

The hand-held whistles might be the most intriguing part. There are basically two types: a balloon-like device that, when squeezed, blows air into a whistle. Think of a whoopee cushion.

Another battery-operated whistle is as simple as pressing a button for a buzzer-type sound.

Basketball officials have used the latter whistle for recent AAU games.

“I think we could get used to it,” Snow said. “The mask would take some time and with the whistle, you wonder if it will be fast enough and not delayed.”

The already prominent official shortage won’t get any favors from the pandemic.

Snow, 38, thinks the modifications could be trying for some of the older referees.

“It will be a challenge,” he said. “Some guys already have said they are done and won’t ref this season. We have to see how it goes. There are some guys in their 60s to 80s, and they could be more susceptible to (covid-19). We already have guys quitting because of the background checks and all of the newer stuff.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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