Fred Guzielek has been officiating high school football games in the Capital Region for more than 20 years, but he’ll be sitting out the upcoming “Fall II” season due to COVID-19 concerns.
He’s not alone.
“It’s not because I don’t want to do it,” said Guzielek, who completed his term last year as president of the Capital District Football Officials Association. “I’m 66, and my son and daughter-in-law just had twin babies. I didn’t think it would be safe going from one school to another. I felt uncomfortable with that.”
Guzielek is among 26 individuals from his organization who are opting not to work games because of concerns related to COVID-19 during the seven-week competition season that starts next week. Eighty-seven individuals from the organization are still planning to work games.
“We’re down, but the numbers are not as significant as basketball because it is outdoors and we have more space to work,” CDFOA game assignor and 20-plus-year referee Troy Weldy said.
Both of the Capital Region organizations that oversee boys’ and girls’ high school basketball referees saw their numbers drop significantly this season due to COVID-19 concerns. At one point, late in that season, a situation developed within the Section II basketball scene that temporarily sidelined at least eight teams and multiple referees. Two players on one team tested positive for COVID-19, then two referees who had worked that team’s most-recent game also tested positive. The teams involved in that game, plus teams and referees who then participated in subsequent games shortly thereafter with the infected referees, needed to call off games and some teams ended up in quarantine.
“Being outdoors is a huge advantage,” said Adirondack Chapter of Certified Football Officials president Paul Bricoccoli Jr. “Indoors is a whole ‘nother ball game. We don’t get in close contact with the players. That gives us a little more confidence.”
Bricoccoli said of his organization’s 50 or so referees, about “four or five” have opted not to work out of COVID-19 concerns, and a few others are still contemplating whether they will or not.
“It’s amazing,” Bricoccoli said. “I’ve asked four times who’s in and the majority have said ‘I’m in.’ Our guys are really fired up about it. They’re like the kids. They want to get on the field and run around and feel a sense of normal.”
Weldy said his organization’s took a big hit with five crew chiefs opting out, including Guzielek.
“We’ll give some guys who are ready to take that step the opportunity to showcase if they can do it or not,” Weldy said.
Guzielek said the entire crew of refs he normally works games with has decided not to work games this season.
“It was a difficult decision,” Guzielek said. “We don’t make a ton of money. We love football and being around the kids.”
“A handful of crews opted out,” Weldy said. “You see where if one of them is not working, all of them are not working. Some of these crews are like family. They’ve been together for years.”
Games this season will be played not only on Fridays and Saturdays, but on Thursdays and Sundays, too, so teams can compete on the turf fields that are available, and so there are enough referees to oversee them.
It takes six referees to work a high school game, with five on the field plus a clock operator.
“We’ve heard from schools and athletic directors,” Weldy said. “If we need to move games around, they understand.”
Bricoccoli, like Weldy, said his organization is awaiting specific game dates, start times and locations.
“The first two or three weeks we have penciled in, but we have no solid dates for anything,” he said. “When we get the schedule, we’ll fill slots the best we can. It will be a scramble, but we’ll take care of it.”
When there were no referees available to work a recent modified girls’ basketball game between Mohonasen and Troy, Mohonasen athletic director David Bertram, who had officiated in the past, worked the game.
“They didn’t have enough officials, and we didn’t want the coaches to do it. We went back and forth and I decided, ‘Let’s do it,'” Bertram said. “I had spare stripes with me and went at it. During the game, there were a couple of complaints, but it was fun, and I’m glad I was able to step in and help out.
“The way things are going these days,” he added, “you’ve got to spin on a dime.”
Bertram said his school’s varsity, junior varsity and modified football teams will be prepared to do just that, and will adjust their schedules if necessary depending on referee availability.
“We’re flexible. We’ll play whenever,” Bertram said. “I hope a lot of schools are like that.”
The Fall II season will include sports, such as football, that were not played in September and October because state authorities would not allow them at that time, or because their schools decided not to offer them because of COVID-19 concerns. The Fall II season started this week with practices on Sunday, and concludes May 1.