PIAA adds 500 officials, but shortage remains ‘major issue’ for many sports

Wednesday, April 19, 2023 | 3:49 PM

Statewide efforts to recruit and retain high school game officials are seeing some positive results, said a PIAA administrator who oversees the men and women in stripes.

“From Sept. 1 until today, we’re up 500 officials in Pennsylvania,” said PIAA assistant executive director Patrick Gebhart, who spoke Wednesday at the WPIAL Annual Meeting.

The PIAA staff has tried in recent years to turn around a well-documented decline in the number of sports officials, blamed in part on the misconduct of coaches, players and spectators.

Gebhart has led the PIAA’s effort to spotlight these issues, including the creation of a Junior Officials Program and the designation of three officials’ appreciation weeks each year.

“I thank the effort of each (school) to take care of the bad actors that you have on your campuses, and show appreciation for your officials,” said Gebhart, who spoke with WPIAL athletic directors in a video conference call. “I think all of these things put together are the reason we’re plus-500.”

The most recent PIAA Officials Appreciation Week was April 2-8.

WPIAL officials representative Nick Morea, who attended the annual meeting, said the WPIAL has seen a similar increase in officials, but more are needed in all sports.

Most in need are officials for some lesser-profile sports such as wrestling and swimming and diving, but also time-sensitive sports like baseball and softball, which play afternoon games that conflict with work schedules.

“We have seen a small increase here in the WPIAL, mainly with basketball and football,” Morea said, “but the time-sensitive sports we still have a major issue with.”

Gebhart said the PIAA has seen around 175 applicants for the new Junior Officials Program, which includes current high school students who are 16 or 17 years old. Approximately 50 or 60 of those applicants have become registered officials, he said, allowing them to work seventh, eighth and ninth grade contests.

The PIAA waives the registration fee for junior officials, but they still must pay for state-mandated background checks and purchase their uniform, along with passing the PIAA test and attending officials meetings.

Morea said the cost has proven prohibitive for some junior officials, especially equipment prices for those wanting to umpire baseball or softball games.

As for reforming the “bad actors” in the crowd, that remains a work in progress.

“Parents are as bad as always,” Morea said. “That hasn’t changed.”

Election results

Chartiers Valley athletic director Mike Gavlik and Bethel Park assistant AD Laura Grimm were elected to the WPIAL board as newcomers for the 2023-24 school year. The board has 10 at-large seats up for election each year.

Returning for another school year are West Allegheny’s David McBain, Peters Township’s Brian Geyer, Mt. Lebanon’s John Grogan, Brentwood’s Jason Olexa, Carlynton’s Nate Milsom, Hopewell’s Michael Allison, Seneca Valley’s Heather Lewis and Plum’s Scott Heinauer. All are athletic directors except for Olexa and Allison, who are high school principals.

WPIAL schools vote for the at-large members. The other board seats are reserved for representatives from specific groups such as school boards, superintendents and game officials.

There were 12 candidates for the 10 at-large seats. Fox Chapel athletic director Michael O’Brien, an incumbent, and Freedom AD John Rosa were not elected.

One vote away

Girls wrestling will become a PIAA-sanctioned sport next month, if the board gives its final vote of approval as expected. In the next few weeks, the PIAA will seek guidance from its wrestling committee about when and where to hold the first girls championships, Gebhart said.

The boys championships are held each winter at Giant Center in Hershey.

“We have limited time at our (boys) championships to conduct an additional tournament,” Gebhart said. “We would rather not have the girls championships held on a different weekend at a different location and treat them differently. We want them to be part of our wrestling championships. How that’s going to shake out, we’re not really sure yet.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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