A high school activities or athletic administrator puts plenty of trust in the officials who are assigned to work a contest at their school.
First, he or she is trusting that the officials will be calling the game fairly, per the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and second, the administrator is trusting that the officials will be strong game managers in doing their part to help maintain high levels of sportsmanship among the participants, coaches and fans.
Athletic directors are also trusting that officials are who they say they are and that they are qualified to officiate games, especially at the varsity level. For decades, that trust was established, but in recent years, it has wavered. There continues to be occurrences across the nation’s state high school associations when unregistered or unauthorized officials have worked varsity-level games without the knowledge of school administrators.
During the 2015-16 season, Mounds Park Academy, a private school in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, was notified a month after a boys basketball victory that a non-registered official had worked that game. Per Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) policy, the victory was forfeited because the game was not conducted with an authorized official.
Longtime Mounds Park Academy Athletic Director Joe Kordosky was shocked at the revelation because the official had worked at his school before and done “a really nice job.”
“He was a veteran, a person that had worked at our school many times before,” said Kordosky, who is retiring at the end of the school year after 44 years of service. “I was maybe a little upset, but more so frustrated, on behalf of our kids.”
His school wasn’t alone. There were about a dozen incidents in Minnesota during that season when it was discovered that unregistered and unqualified officials had worked basketball games, partially because of officials not doing their due diligence, and as well, assignors and athletic directors not checking the online directory to confirm registration.
The MSHSL responded swiftly by passing a policy that requires its officials to show a photo registration card prior to working games at the varsity level. Typically, when officials are greeted by a site administrator, they are asked to produce their MSHSL photo identification card or the same document, but on a mobile phone. In order to print their photo ID, officials must have passed a background check, completed concussion training, paid registration fees, received training, completed an online rules meeting and taken the NFHS exam.
Schools are motivated to follow through on making sure officials have their photo IDs. If a determination has been made that a non-registered official was used in a varsity contest, without the school receiving a MSHSL waiver, the home team, or whomever was responsible for hiring the officials, will be fined. The first offense is $250, and $350 for the second offense in the same season and $500 for the third offense in the same season. In addition, the activities administrator will be censured and the official is suspended a minimum of four consecutive varsity contests.
“It is a communication piece and a process piece,” Kordosky said. “This has been a wakeup call that something was being missed here by officials’ associations and school administrators. I am much more proactive now than ever before with the verification process. This has made everyone do their jobs a little bit better.”
It is believed that Minnesota is the first state association to require officials to present a photo ID prior to working a varsity contest.
"Since passing the policy, we have encouraged officials to send a copy of their ID to schools when they confirm their assignment,” said MSHSL Associate Director Kevin Merkle, who oversees the officiating
programs. “That really helps the AD’s. We are working to develop an online form the officials can use to do this, and that will be a major point of emphasis moving ahead.”
Tim Leighton is the communications coordinator for the Minnesota State High School League and a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.