OAKWOOD — Tim Tipton admits he is a glass-half-full kind of guy.
Which is a good thing since the current Lanier Association official and Board member -- and its former president for 18 years -- is preparing for what he hopes is a 2020 high school football season.
“I’m doing my usual things to get ready,” he said. “The first games (middle school) are scheduled for the first week in August and our association is working with that in mind.”
The problem, of course, is how school systems navigate through the COVID-19 virus and the myriad of restrictions that are still in place. The Georgia High School Association has slowly opened things up for systems and teams to get back to practice but Tipton, like everyone else involved in sports these days, realizes things can change in a moment’s notice.
“I’m staying positive that things will continue to move forward and we’ll be playing in August,” he said. “We have a July 20 meeting set to discuss the season and begin planning. Right now I feel good about there being a season.”
Referee Magazine recently sent out an email soliciting a response from current officials that ‘if youth and high school sports got back in action right now would they still take part from a health and safety perspective?’
The respondents, nationwide, voted by a more than 2:1 margin (67.5 percent to 32.5 percent) they are ready to strap on the pinstripes and throw flags.
Tipton said that was significant because, without refs, there would be no games played. Georgia, with 894 votes, had the seventh-most respondents nationwide out of roughly 20,000. California had the most with 1,500 total replies.
“I think we had some guys in our association vote. The GHSA encourages us to participate in these kinds of things to let our voices and ideas be heard. I was very encouraged by the response,” he said. “We need refs, so if most said ‘no,' there would be another issue than just the virus.”
But the 67 percent is actually low compared to what Tipton said he is hearing from his fellow Lanier members.
“I think we’ve had about a 90 to 95 percent response saying our guys are ready to get going. That’s a big number to want to come back with all that is going on right now,” he said.
One key area to returning for schools, teams, and fans has been sanitation around fields, dugouts, and locker rooms. Football officials typically arrive about 90 minutes before games to dress and prepare for the night’s game. Some guidelines could call for them to arrive dressed and closer to kickoff. Ernie Yarbrough, who supervises the GHSA officials, sent a letter to all officiating associations last week with a new bylaw stating that member schools sanitize the officials’ dressing rooms and all necessary supplies before games.
Tipton said most officials are not overly concerned about that considering that most facilities already had stand-alone areas for officials. However, with the average age of officials in the 50-55 range, that could give some pause for concern.
“Maybe, but we have not had anyone in our association, that I’m aware of, voice concern over anything in regards to returning to the field,” he said. “I think most of us would be fine dressing before we get to our game. But most of the locker rooms already are equipped to where I don’t see many problems with sanitizing and us being exposed to anything.”
Another issue, however, was more concerning to Tipton than locker rooms. While nothing has been put on paper, as of yet, to require players, coaches, or officials to wear masks or gloves while on the field, could be in future discussions by school systems.
“Last year I did four weeks in a row where the temperatures were in the upper-90s to the low-100s. If I had had to wear a mask there is no way I would have been able to breathe,” he said.
“For me, I’m not wearing a mask and running up and down a field in that kind of weather. I would hang up my cleats in that case.”
But the nationwide survey showed that regardless of age, most officials were ready to get back to work.
Among those that participated, the oldest officials -- 65 and older -- by a 60-40 split were comfortable with getting back on the field. That number was not far off from the 25-to-34-year-olds, where 66 percent said they were ready to return. More than 80 percent of the youngest demographic -- 18-to-24-year-olds -- were set to return.
“That was very encouraging to see overall,” Tipton said. “You can’t play any sports without the referees, so it is important that we have enough guys, and gals, to be able to play. All I know is that everyone I have talked to is eager and ready to get going.”
And, of course, he pitched that his association, like most around the state and country, is in need to ‘get younger,’ as he said.
“Almost all of us are over 50 which means if we don’t get younger people in here, there will continue to be even more issues down the road,” Tipton said. “If you have a love of sports and want to stay involved, this is a great way to do it.”
Anyone interested in inquiring about becoming an official can click the Lanier Association link for more information.