PIAA requires covid-19 vaccination for all officials working state playoffs

Tuesday, September 14, 2021 | 12:50 PM

The PIAA will require its game officials in all sports to be fully vaccinated against covid-19 to work any state postseason contests this fall.

In a bulletin for football officials posted online Tuesday, the PIAA said: “All officials must be fully vaccinated to officiate any postseason inter-district contest. The terms and conditions of PIAA inter-district playoff contracts will include language that all officials working those contests must be fully vaccinated.”

The mandate will not apply to district games such as the WPIAL playoffs, said PIAA assistant executive director Patrick Gebhart, who oversees officials across the state.

“Any of the 12 districts can do as they see fit,” Gebhart said. “But once our tournaments start here in the fall, everyone will be required to be vaccinated. They will not be able to claim a medical or religious exemption.”

The PIAA will not require coaches or others be vaccinated to participate in the state tournaments.

“Coaches are under the direct supervision of our local school,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “That would be up to the local school. We don’t really have that reach at this time, so we’re staying in our own lane.”

Lombardi and Gebhart said the PIAA is following advice of its medical advisors.

“From everything we’ve learned so far, those that are vaccinated are much better equipped to be around everyone,” Gebhart said. “We want the seasons to move forward. I don’t think we want our officials to be responsible for a contest being postponed or canceled or having a negative affect on any of our teams in the tournament.”

The PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee met in late August and unanimously agreed to recommend covid-19 vaccines for “student-athletes, coaches, athletic personnel and officials in accordance with the recommendations of the CDC and NFHS.” However, the SMAC position included only a recommendation, not a mandate.

Lombardi said that distinction was made because the committee itself cannot make mandates but the PIAA board of directors can. The board meets Wednesday.

“The committee felt that anyone involved in athletics should be vaccinated,” Gebhart said. “We’re just following that recommendation and requiring our officials be vaccinated.”

PIAA officials are considered independent contractors. Vaccination status will be added to the terms and conditions of the contracts they must accept to work games.

“They don’t have to (accept),” Lombardi said. “This is totally voluntary and any of those officials that don’t want to do it don’t have to work.”

Gebhart said the PIAA does not intend to verify proof of vaccination beyond an official’s signed contract.

“I don’t see us taking any other action where they have to verify by showing us their card or signing an affidavit or anything like that,” Gebhart said.

It’s unlikely the WPIAL will issue a similar vaccination mandate.

Executive director Amy Scheuneman said requiring vaccinations for WPIAL and other district playoffs contests could complicate scheduling efforts when there’s already a well-documented shortage of officials.

“There are going to be people who are not then able to officiate,” Scheuneman said. “I’m not saying there will be a complete shortage where we won’t have them, but the ones that we want to use may not be available.”

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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