GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A high school basketball referee ran down court while working an Interscholastic League of Honolulu game last week. An already hard job got tougher this year for all of the state's refs.
Concurrent seasons cause problems
The state's basketball referees are being pushed to the limit
STORY SUMMARY »
The move was made in the name of gender equity. Switching the high school girls basketball season to run concurrently with that of the boys was supposed to increase exposure and college opportunities for female athletes as well as to have it on the same sports calendar as that of the other 49 states.
The switch also was made to avoid a threatened lawsuit that could have bankrupted the Hawaii High School Athletic Association had the organization decided to contest it.
The cost of that decision has now manifested itself as a real problem. The limited officiating base has been overused as much as the limited gym space, with crews working up to five nights a week.
"My first thought when I heard the season was changing was to start getting our younger officials more prepared physically and mentally," said Thomas Yoshida, president of the Oahu Basketball Referees Association. "We like to pair them up with veterans to learn and grow in the game.
"Many of them have had to grow up faster this year."
The good news on Oahu is that officials received their first pay raise in 15 years, a $5 increase that tops out at $45 for a high school varsity game. The bad news statewide is that burned-out officials may not think the job is worth it any more.
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The switch of the high school girls basketball season from spring to winter eventually may result in more scholarship opportunities at the college level for Hawaii's female athletes. But the move -- made to avoid a gender-equity lawsuit -- has begun to show negative effects as its first year of implementation draws to a close.
The complaints range from over-taxing the limited officiating base to overuse of the limited facilities. Some questions have been raised about the quality of officiating by fatigued crews who are working up to five consecutive nights, including nights with doubleheaders.
There even have been charges that officials are calling phantom fouls in order to slow down the game, or not calling fouls in order to have the game finish faster. Whether true or not, the integrity of the sport has become a concern, one where there is no immediate solution available.
"It's a matter of too many games, not enough gyms, and not enough officials," said longtime referee Pat Tanibe, the liaison for the 50th State Basketball Officials Association, which officiates Interscholastic League of Honolulu games. "It's become a big headache, especially for the assigners who put out the (work) schedules.
"There's been a shortage (of officials) for years, but now it's become a hardship."
It will become very obvious during next week's four state varsity tournaments: Division I and II boys and girls. There is an overlap for two days -- the girls tournaments run next Tuesday through Friday, the boys next Wednesday through Saturday -- with 20 games on both Wednesday and Thursday.
"We'll definitely have to go deeper into our roster of officials state tournament week," said Thomas Yoshida, president of the Oahu Basketball Referees Association, which officiates Oahu Interscholastic Association games. "The change has created a strain. Where we used to ask guys to work two, three nights, now they're working five, and over an intense period of time.
"One of the things I've had to worry about is the injury factor. This isn't just a safety issue with the athletes playing so many games, but also for our officials, many of whom are older. Our average age is 47, with 11.3 years of experience. (Those averages were lowered when the OBRA added 20 new members this past year).
"We'll send our best to the state tournament, but this is not only a league issue, it's a statewide issue."
Keith Amemiya, executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, is very aware of the issue.
"We don't get involved with the leagues at the officiating level before the state tournament," Amemiya said. "But we knew from the beginning there might be a problem.
"I know that finding enough tournament-ready officials may be a challenge, especially on days when we have those 20 games on Oahu."
The question also will be of the officiating quality for the "key" games, the winners' bracket quarterfinals, semifinals and finals ... four brackets totaling 28 games. The more qualified referees, theoretically, get the higher-profile games.
But, as has happened during league play, schedulers have had to prioritize which crew is assigned to which site.
"With so many games per night per week, somewhere along the line you're going to get less experienced officials," said Dwight Toyoma, OIA executive secretary. "For the OIA, we've got 85-86 officials. Some nights we need 72 of those (including Division I and II college games) and not everyone is always available every night.
"Because of facilities, the state tournament had to be moved up a week. We're now running OIA Red and White (divisional playoffs), JV and varsity, at the same time. We've concluded that next year, we'll have to split the (Red and White) playoffs. We just can't run them concurrently."
The problem has been season-long in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation as well.
"We were already shorthanded before the switch," according to Ken Yamase, the BIIF executive secretary. "It has taken its toll, physically and mentally, on officials. They are tired. You can't be running up and down like that six nights a week.
"I don't know if it can get worse, but I don't see it getting better."
In the BIIF's case, teams often have to travel up to 3 hours one way for games. It's the same for officials, many of whom live on the Hilo side but commute to Kona for work.
Yamase, the former longtime athletic director at Waiakea High, said he's also noticed a drop in attendance at games. With teams sometimes playing three times a week now "parents can't afford to come every night," he said. "And it sometimes splits families who might have a son at one gym and a daughter at another, sometimes on two sides of the island.
"I've also seen a decline in the quality of play. Coaches aren't getting the practice time to correct errors like they used to because they are playing so many games during the week."
The Big Island Basketball Officials Association has a roster of 34 referees, but only 21 can call games at every level, college down to junior varsity. Only 14 are certified for varsity games.
"And I can't put just anyone at a game," BIBOA assigner Anthony Carvalho said. "Someone might have a relative playing, get sick or have to work a night shift. Trying to move one guy means I might have to move five others to make it work.
"The thing is the officials are getting burned out. Technical fouls are up 50 percent. It's fatigue and frustration on the part of everyone, the kids, the coaches and the officials.
"What's going to happen is officials will say it's not worth it anymore. They're tired. They have family commitments. The younger people won't want to do this. Then what are you going to do?"
The problem with officials is expected to carry over to the coming spring season with girls softball now conflicting with boys baseball. The two sports have often used the same umpire crews, which worked well when softball was played in winter and baseball in spring.