PIAA Adds 500 Officials, But Shortage Remains Issue for Several Sports

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Statewide efforts to recruit and retain high school game officials in Pennsylvania are seeing some positive results, according to the administrator who oversees officiating for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“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, as reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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, Chris Harlan of the Tribune-Review reported.

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.

Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League 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 — lesser-profile sports such as wrestling and swimming and diving, in particular. Baseball and softball, which play afternoon games that often conflict with work schedules, are also in need.

“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, Harlan of the Tribune-Review reported.

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

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