For PIAA officials, positives can outweigh negatives
Pretend you're watching "Family Feud" on TV and the next category is: Reasons Why You Wouldn't Want To Be A Sports Official.
You might hear such things as "I don't have the time," or "You have to go to too many meetings," or "Too many expenses," or even "I hate having to do the background checks."
But the No. 1 answer undoubtedly would be: "I can't handle getting yelled at."
Tough to dispute that.
"The public perception of how officials do their job has a lot of criticism. It's a reflection of society as a whole," said Cindy Rinehart, the District 3 representative for female officials.
"We've made officiating more difficult by the way we treat them," said Steve Murray, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. "It's a national issue. The way coaches, players and fans act toward officials is a real problem."
The other reasons not to officiate are legitimate, too.
Many people do not have the time to put into becoming a good official. Carving out space in a busy schedule for games and chapter meetings takes good organizational skills. The PIAA requires officials to attend six chapter meetings, plus a mandatory rules interpretation meeting each year. Anybody who wishes to work in the state playoffs must attend the annual officials convention.
"We ask a lot, but PIAA is the standard bearer (nationally) with how we train our officials," said Pat Gebhart, PIAA assistant executive director. "We want the calls to be made the same way all across the state."
There are expenses: dues, equipment, uniforms, travel.
And when the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill requiring officials to get three background clearances done, it added another headache. The clearances cost money to have done and must be done every five years.
"Clearances are a problem. I’ve had people tell me they’re not spending the $43 to get them, and for some people it’s just the principle of it," Rinehart said. "But if you look at the big picture (example: the Jerry Sandusky case), you just don’t know, and if you can stop one instance, then I guess it worked."
But enough negativity.
Clearly, there are good reasons for people to officiate. Let's examine them:
There is no set fee for officials. It's driven by the market, and not all schools or leagues will pay the same.
Nevertheless, there is good money to be made. If you check the accompanying chart of fees the Mid Penn Conference paid this spring, you'll see that it ranges from $68 for a volleyball varsity match to $90 for lacrosse. Except for volleyball, they all pay at least $83, and it's similar in the other seasons.
If you become good enough as an official, and you can find the time to take on a full schedule of games, you can make some money. If you become good enough to move into the college ranks, the pay goes up quite a bit: A PSAC basketball official earns $250 per game.
Audrey Hall, the women's athletics representative for the PIAA Board of Directors, said, "I know some refs who collect their checks and don’t cash them in until the end of the season, and that’s a nice treat."
An official can dictate what his/her schedule looks like by telling the assignor how many games they'll take and when they can work. The official has the option to accept or pass up assignments.
If your job prevents you from doing afternoon games, then you'll have to pick up night games. If Saturday is your only free day, then fill those days if you can. It's the assignor's job to balance the officials' requests while covering all the games.
"You call your own shots and pick how much you want to work," Rinehart said. "There are plenty of opportunities out there."
This might be one thing many people don't think about. But during the course of a season, officials will see their chapter's members at several meetings and work games in pressure situations with them. They become like one big family.
"There are many great friendships you develop," veteran Lebanon basketball official Dinny Kinloch said. "My best friend and I met while officiating intramural games in college and we're still doing it. You make a lot of relationships."
Yes, there are some sports that aren't physically taxing to officiate. But in many sports, a lot of the effectiveness of an official is dependent on keeping up with the play and being in the right place at the right time to make the call.
It's a combination of two things: In order to be a good official, you have to get in shape for the season, and working the games will keep you in that condition.
As an official, you will be tested mentally as well as physically. It's a challenge to be prepared for each contest you work. And it will make you get better at decision making.
Kinloch said, "I have a business and one thing I always need to deal with is conflict resolution — I have to deal with people in pressure situations. Officiating basketball, you're doing the same things. It's a bang-bang sport and you have to constantly make quick decisions."
FILLING A NEED
There is a constant need for more officials. More sports and more games are added each year, and even though most chapters have enough officials to get the job done, having more would make it better in many ways.
Former athletes whose playing days are over can stay involved in the sport they love. Your participation can help that sport, it will help the schools and it will help the athletes.
Mid Penn officials' fees
Baseball, softball: varsity $83, JV $70
Lacrosse (boys and girls): varsity $90, JV $75, varsity/JV $140
Volleyball: varsity $68, JV $58, varsity/JV $104, middle school (1 game) $58, middle school (2 games) $75
Track & field (starters): varsity $88, JV $76