WIAA braces for fewer sports officials as vaccination mandate nears

All adults who work with students in Washington must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, including sports officials

Already facing a shortage of officials for most sports, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and local administrators are bracing for the loss of even more officials by Oct. 18.

That is the deadline for anyone working with students to be vaccinated. That includes teachers, coaches, volunteers, and yes, game officials.

Mick Hoffman, the executive director of the WIAA, told the governor’s office he fears up to 30 percent of sports officials will stop officiating games if they are not exempt from the mandate that all adults working with students be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18

The WIAA got word late last week that sports officials would not be excused from the governor’s mandate. 

“We asked them to revisit their decision, but we have not heard a response,” said Mick Hoffman, the executive director of the WIAA. “We’ve shared with the governor’s office that we anticipate the loss of 30 percent of officials, which will result in cancellations or rescheduling of contests.”

Cale Piland, the athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools, which has four high schools in two leagues in Clark County, said he is unsure what will happen after the deadline.

“I don’t think anybody at this time knows what the full impact is going to be,” Piland said. “Our hope is we are able to continue running athletics in the same fashion we have been. We’ll just have to see what the overall impact will be within our officiating ranks.”

Hoffman said the WIAA will be encouraging its member schools to be flexible in scheduling. If it means rescheduling football games to non-traditional days, so be it.

“Our job is to provide as many opportunities to kids as possible,” Hoffman said. “If you need to play on Sundays, play on Sundays.”

Piland said the hope is it will not come to that in Clark County.

The WIAA says administrators need to make sure there is enough time in between games for rest and recovery, but coaches and athletes should be prepared for changes toward the end of the regular season.

That goes for all sports, too. Hoffman expects that a number of officials in volleyball, girls soccer, and slowpitch softball this fall, as well as officials in winter and spring sports, will decline to be vaccinated. 

The Evergreen Football Officials Association was scheduled to meet Tuesday night. The president of the EFOA, Bruce Hermansen, said he will have an idea by the end of the week just how many of his members are vaccinated or will be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

He said he knows of a handful who are not and have no intention of getting the vaccine. 

“Unless things change, those people will not be able to officiate any school games,” Hermansen said.

“It’s going to have a tremendous impact,” Hermansen added. “I’m not holding my breath that the governor is going to change anything between now and then.”

Clark County Today previously reported that the EFOA was down more than 30 percent already in the past two years. (https://www.clarkcountytoday.com/sports/fewer-game-officials-force-major-schedule-changes-for-high-school-football/)

Depending on the type of vaccination, it could be too late for a sports official to become fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Two of the vaccinations require two shots, taken weeks apart. The governor’s mandate says “fully vaccinated.”

There are medical and religious exemptions available, provided individual school districts will accept them. However, anyone who is not vaccinated and does not have an exemption will not be allowed to work at a school-sanctioned event.

The WIAA, Hoffman said, argued that sports officiating is a different setting than traditional K-12 in-person learning. Most sporting events are after-hours, as well. The WIAA also asked if an exception could be made for outdoor sports such as football, soccer, or slowpitch softball in the fall.

The answer was no.

“Now we’re in the position we just have to implement it,” Hoffman said. “Our job is to implement what they decide.

“We’ve been scrambling with the Washington Officials Association to try to get the word out,” Hoffman added.

According to state and county health departments and the CDC, 59 percent of people in Clark County are fully vaccinated. There are areas in Washington with higher rates of vaccination, but there are many places, especially in the east, that have lower rates of vaccination.

“It’s a problem,” Hoffman said.

He is not alone. Hoffman has been at a conference this week with directors from several states. All have concerns about the declining number of officials in general, and any state that has a vaccine mandate such as Washington will see more officials leaving the profession.

Hoffman said fewer officials are needed in the postseason for all sports, so the expectation is that scheduling officials for playoff games will be easier than scheduling for the regular season. In football, though, there will be two weeks of regular-season games after the Oct. 18 deadline.

(Another potential problem for athletes will be the declining number of bus drivers due to the Oct. 18 deadline. School districts across the state are worried about the loss of drivers for daily transportation to and from school. That could also have an impact on available drivers for after-school activities.)

Come time for winter sports, officials are required for boys and girls basketball, wrestling, and judges for gymnastics. Baseball, softball, boys soccer, and track and field use officials in the spring. 

Hoffman said he expects the governor’s directive will last the entire academic year. 

How that affects the high school sports landscape is to be determined … starting Oct. 18.

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1 year ago

oh boo hoo! I’m so sick of this sports crap, I could scream! Just close all sports down and save everyone the hassle AND a ton of money! We have bus shortages, teacher shortages, fighting about masks and curriculum and isolating entire classes due to one exposure… and we’re going to worry about friggin’ football games? Really? Priorities, people, it’s all about priorities. And sports is NOT a priority when the conversation is about schooling and education.

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