Official word on U-High referees

Saturday, December 29, 2001

The area's most experienced and respected referees have boycotted the 57th Annual University High School Christmas Tournament.

Was it a good call?

It depends on who you ask.

After two days of mostly unfamiliar officials calling the region's most prestigious tournament, some have not even known the difference.

Others want the old guys back.

Either way, all sides say they want the issue resolved before next year's tournament.

After the tournament went to three-man crews last year, superintendents of the tournament's schools voted to go back to two-man crews, believing two referees do as well calling games as three.

The Cape Girardeau Officials Assocation, comprised of about 40 officials, decided to boycott the event, though four association officials went ahead and worked the tournament anyway. The remainder of the officials were recruited from outside the immediate area.

Woodland coach Jennings Wilkinson and Leopold coach Carlton Thoma said this rift is the tournament's biggest issue since the 16-team tournament moved to the Show Me Center.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one boycotting official said the issue started back in the summer when the Southeast referee association approached the area's superintendents about raising rates.

The official said the association did a statewide survey and found that Southeast Missouri's officials were not compensated fairly. The source said the superintendents may have seen that gesture as a demand, but he said it was only a request to make rates comparable with officials in the rest of the state.

But tournament director and Delta schools superintendent Tom Allen said talks of going back to two-man crews actually started last year. He said he talked to a couple of officials about it at the time, and they said they didn't approve of it but did not mention a boycott.

Allen said a "vast majority" of the superintendents -- or other school representatives -- voted to go back to two-man crews, and the usual officials were all sent contracts for the University High Tournament. The contracts were not returned.

Allen said money was not an issue.

"Philosophically, three officials should see more than two," he said. "But several of the superintendents and representatives thought the job that was done was no better with three than two."

The officials say the U-High tournament should have three-man crews for several reasons. One, it's the biggest tournament in the area set on the region's brightest stage, the Show Me Center. They say the tournament is regressing with going to two-man crews when other area tournaments such as the Bloomfield Tournament and the Poplar Bluff Showdown go with three referees.

Because it is on a college floor, the court is 10 feet longer than a high school court.

Some coaches and others in disagreement with the officials' association say it's simply a matter of the association wanting to get more referees more games.

Whether or not the absence of the refs has effected the quality of this year's tournament is strictly opinion.

As in any U-High Tournament, there have been moans from the crowd and sideline tantrums thrown by coaches.

Advance coach Jim Hall didn't exactly throw a tantrum, but he said a non-call against Jackson cost his team the game in a quarterfinal matchup Thursday. But the official was in position to make the call, and having two officials instead of three had no impact on the judgment.

Scott City coach Kerry Thompson, perhaps the tournament's most mild-mannered coach, said, "There have been no more questionable calls than there usually are in this tournament."

Most coaches didn't want to go on record with comments about the officiating, but they are frustrated with the circumstances.

"I think if they don't get it straightened out, this tournament is going to get a black eye," Thoma said. "It's something we have to work out before next year. One thing we have to remember is that this tournament is for the kids. It's not for the coaches or the officials."

"To me, the Christmas tournament is the biggest thing of the year besides district," said Wilkinson, whose Cardinals host an eight-team tournament at the beginning of the season. "And honestly, a year later, I can't remember if it was a two-man or three-man crew who called our games."

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