It’s not just players, coaches, and fans who miss sports
It was the first week of March, and Neil Anderson was working as an official at the state basketball tournament in Tacoma.
The night before the tournament started, word spread that the whole thing could be shut down at any moment.
Covid-19 had arrived.
“That whole tournament, I kept my distance from everybody,” Anderson said.
Yes, even while officiating.
Naturally, officials and players are going to get close to each other in a game. But from an official’s perspective, the official can take a few steps back here and there while working a game.
Anderson said he did just that at the Tacoma Dome. The state championships finished on schedule, concluding just before schools were closed and the state pretty much shut down.
“My point, if I could do that for the tournament, I could do that in a season,” said Anderson, the president of the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association.
He said when basketball season returns, he will have “absolutely no problem” getting on the court to officiate.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced its tentative sports schedule to deal with the pandemic earlier this week. And in the press conference, Greg Whitmore, the president of the WIAA’s executive board, noted that statewide, many officials in various sports have expressed concerns about returning to action.
Locally, that is not necessarily the case.
Bruce Hermansen, the president of Evergreen Football Officials Association, said that revelation by the WIAA caught him by surprise.
“No one said they are not planning to officiate,” Hermansen said of his own local survey, adding that a few have a wait-and-see approach.
“There are members of the association who are of the age that they are in the vulnerable category. I’m the leader of that pack,” Hermansen said.
Still, they were all preparing for a football season.
Now they all have more time. Football practice, under the tentative schedule, will not begin until February 2021, with games starting in March.
The EFOA membership is disappointed that a traditional fall season is not going to happen, but the EFOA understands the WIAA’s decision. Hermansen said just about everyone knew that had to be done.
“We want to be on the field, part of the game, part of the love of the game,” Hermansen said of the officials. “It’s kind of put on the back-burner for now.”
But when football returns, the EFOA will be ready.
“We’ll just keep planning, and this gives us more time,” Hermansen said.
Basketball officials will get a little more time, too. Instead of the season starting in late November, early December, basketball games are scheduled to begin the second week of January.
Officials are looking into new whistles that can make noise with a push of a button, Anderson said. Or masks that give room for a whistle. Who knows what officiating will look like when sports return?
Anderson also said he has not had any member reach out to him concerned about doing the job. But, he noted, basketball season is months away.
“Bottom line, it’s really too early to make any calls,” Anderson said. “College basketball will start before high school basketball will start. You’re going to see what happens there. It’s too early to have an opinion.”
Gary Loucks is the president of the Evergreen Baseball Umpires Association. He also officiates in football. In fact, many officials make the calls in multiple sports. Loucks last umpired a game in February, a college baseball game.
“It’s the longest period I’ve ever gone without officiating a game in 31 years,” Loucks said. “It’s strange.”
He added it is going to be “odd” to do football in March and April, then go straight into baseball.
“While we’re really disappointed … I definitely think it was the right thing to do,” Loucks said.
Darrin Leggett is the president of the Evergreen Fastpitch Officials Association. That association also works slowpitch softball that is now a WIAA-sanctioned sport. If the tentative schedule holds, slowpitch softball will be played in September.
“It adds a little excitement to the equation for us,” Leggett said, knowing that his association would be the first to go back to work.
He said in the past, one umpire has been used in slowpitch. Heading into this upcoming season, the plan was to go with a two-person crew. Leggett said he might even recruit some football officials who are not working in the fall to come help him out. Interestingly, Leggett is a football official, too.
He normally does not work slowpitch because it is in football season.
“If there is a slowpitch season, I might get out there and give it a try,” Leggett said.
The officiating leaders interviewed for this story all said the WIAA made the right call.
“I applauded the decision to put Mick (Hoffman) in charge,” of the WIAA, Loucks said. “He’s a level-headed guy. I think he’s going to lead us in the right direction.”
“I think he did an outstanding job of laying out this plan,” Anderson said. “Now everybody kind of has an idea.”
Note: For information on becoming an official in football, basketball, or baseball, seek out the associations: