Some prep football referees in northwest Ohio take a step back

There are concerns over COVID-19 with refereeing high school football
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 8:55 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - On Tuesday, The State of Ohio and the OHSAA said contact sports are a go for this fall.

But some football referees around northwest Ohio are not moving forward with their game schedule because of concerns over COVID-19.

Every year, there are classes available around Ohio for people interested in becoming a high school football official. Mark Kuhn teaches one of those classes in Toledo, and he has nearly two decades of officiating experience in football. He is also a baseball umpire.

“I was actually shocked that we had seven guys,” Kuhn said. “We’ve been struggling to get guys over the last couple of years.”

Shocked, because the average age of the prep football referee population is in its fifties and there is not a wave of younger officials entering the game. Referees are also stepping away because of the abuse.

“Now you throw us into the middle of a pandemic where people are concerned about their health and safety,” Northern Lakes League Commissioner Richard Browne said. “And now they’re pulling back for that same reason. But now you’ve got people that are worried about their health, and for good reasons. You have to understand that your health takes precedence, so if we have to make those decisions where we have to pull back, then absolutely we have to respect that.”

Browne’s full-time job is selling fire fighting equipment. He spent little time on that job the last two weeks as he is all in recently on the eight NLL schools.

“We’re still playing a full slate of freshman, JV and varsity games,” Browne said. “Even though we have a reduced schedule, we need officials to fill those spots. If it continues to go down, we are concerned about that.”

In many cases, officials have game contracts which extend out a few years. Because it is 2020, those game contracts are a little different for this fall.

“There’s been a complete schedule reshuffle to begin with so it makes the assigners work a little harder,” Kuhn said. “They’ve worked overtime to compensate. Our whole schedule from week one to ten has completely changed.”

Kuhn will continue to teach this group of seven rookies virtually. His students are already behind because of the lack of scrimmages available to practice their skills. That will now change with Tuesday’s announcement.

In the meantime, Kuhn brought his new referees to Lake Community Stadium for an in-person classroom just so they could practice on the field, even without any sort of football activity.

“Friday night football is a big deal,” Kuhn said. “Is it bigger than somebody’s heath? Probably not. We’ve all weighed the risks and think we’ll be OK. We’re going to do what we can to stay safe amongst us, but just Friday nights, to be able to do stuff for the kids (and) stay involved, it’s all of that.”

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