4 Questions with officials association president Todd Downes

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

Today’s interviewee is Todd Downes, president of the Atlanta-based Georgia Football Officials Association, one of 23 officials groups that works GHSA football games. Downes is a former Georgia high school teacher and softball, basketball, baseball and golf coach. He is the assistant head coach of Georgia State’s softball team.

Todd Downes, Georgia Football Officials Association president

1. As an official, what is your main concern about working football games during the pandemic? “Outside of the obvious concern that each official has about his or her personal health, the biggest fear for officials that have opted out for the 2020 season is the health of their families. They are afraid that they might bring the virus back home and expose family members or that if they get sick through refereeing that it could place a financial hardship on their family.”

2. What are your registration numbers this year compared to last, and do you have a sense of the rest of the state? “Personally, I can only speak for our association because I have spoken to other associations’ leaders across the state that have minimal members that have opted out. I think by the time we get to September 4th that we will be down about 25 percent in membership numbers from last year. You always will have some attrition and retirements, but you can hopefully replace those numbers with first-year prospects or transfers. Right now, we have five potential first-year members and two transfers with experience. Our recruiting efforts were as good as ever. I just think people are reluctant to jump aboard during these times. One additional area where we potentially may add a few experienced officials is college officials that had their seasons canceled that want to call high school games to stay fresh and involved.”

3. What are the chances that there won’t be enough officials on any given Friday night this season because of some opting to sit out? “We will find a way to get all games staffed, but there will be challenges. All associations in the metro Atlanta area have already started to work together to trade games on heavy nights and have agreed to loan out officials to help everyone get things covered. Saying that, there will probably be a lot of less-experienced officials getting their opportunities on the varsity field, and that could affect the quality of the product due only to the experience level. We are also covering and reviewing the mechanics for five-man officiating crews in the event that an official shows COVID symptoms late in the week or even a Friday and we can’t get him/her replaced. Fortunately, we have presently not had to ask any of our contracted schools to move games to Thursday or Saturday over not having enough staff on a particular Friday, but there is always a possibility that could develop as the season goes longer.”

4. Is there something that the GHSA could do to make you and your association more comfortable working games this fall? “The GHSA has given us protocol recommendations to help with social distancing and spacing. Examples include wearing masks and the use of electronic whistles, no hand shaking with captains, only one captain per team. Gloves and long sleeves are always an option to be worn. Team boxes have been extended to the 10-yard lines to allow more social distancing between players and staff along with not putting the duties on the sideline officials to police the spacing and distancing behind them in the boxes. We have been assured that each school has a COVID-19 plan, and that would include notifying me if any of our officials work a game where players or staff test positive after the contest. As an association, we [GFOA] will have a plan in place where we ask our officials to notify us immediately if they develop symptoms, and we will keep those officials out of assignments or notify schools if a positive test was after an event. I guess we won’t know if we or the GHSA are doing the right things until this is all over and evaluate.”

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