COLUMBUS, Ohio — The number of Ohio High School Athletic Association officiating license renewals for fall sports experienced a greater decline than usual this summer.
But, the amount of renewals is sustainable for the education-based athletics governing body as official fall sports practice is scheduled to begin Aug. 1.
Four fall sports - field hockey, football, soccer (boys and girls) and girls volleyball - were accounted for in the July 15 deadline for current officials to renew their permit.
The OHSAA typically has a June deadline but it was extended to mid-July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The total number of officials for this fall sports season hasn't been finalized because new officials are still taking classes, according to OHSAA assistant director officiating and sport management Ben Ferree.
In football, there are 2,711 licensed officials this week. There were 3,203 total officials at the end of the 2019 season.
In soccer, there are 1,108 licensed officials this week compared to 1,296 last season.
In girls volleyball, there are 1,554 licensed officials this week compared to 1,830 last season.
Field hockey has 58 licensed officials as of this week. The sport had 66 officials at the end of the 2019 season.
Classes for new officials are still ongoing but there only about 10 percent as many courses as usual due to the pandemic, Ferree said.
"The big downside is we're not bringing in nearly as many new officials as normal due to the pandemic," Ferree said. "So while these numbers will go up, they are unlikely to go up as much as they did in the past."
Ferree said the OHSAA usually loses 5 to 10% of officials each year through renewals but the losses this summer are in the 15 % range.
"So it is more than usual, but not an amount we can't deal with," Ferree said.
Ferree said the OHSAA will watch closely how the percentage will possibly impact future years. If some schools decide not to have sports this year, the loss in officials wouldn't be as significant.
"Usually, through classes, we gain so many officials that we get that number down to about a 2 to 4% loss," Ferree said. "I am not sure we will get anywhere near that this year."
Winter sports officials can renew through September and spring sports have until December.
There were 14,651 registered officials in all sports at the end of the 2019-20 school year, according to Ferree.
The OHSAA has experienced about a 2% loss in officials each year so there have been efforts to reverse the downward trend in recent years.
Meanwhile, the OHSAA continues to say it plans to move forward with all of the fall sports starting in August.
While boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls volleyball have been declared as low contact sports, the OHSAA is waiting to hear from the Ohio governor's office about when contact sports teams (cross country, field hockey, soccer and football) may have competitions between schools.
"My response sitting here today on July 14 is we're planning to go full bore ahead with our practices Aug. 1 with the notion that yes our seasons would follow in their normal pattern, their normal schedule date beginning in the normal time frame," OHSAA interim executive director Bob Goldring said Tuesday.
"So I don't think we as an association have any plans to start practice with the idea that we could be delaying our season. I think they would go hand in hand."
The National Federation of State High School Associations said Wednesday eight states have pushed back the start of the fall season - some due to mandates from state government - but that all are committed to offering some type of activities this fall if possible.
NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff told WCPO last month that officials who are returning are likely eager after how the winter and spring seasons were impacted by the pandemic.
The OHSAA has 815 member high schools and 760 seventh- to eighth-grade schools in the association for this upcoming 2020-21 school year.
The OHSAA represents over 350,000 students competing in 26 sanctioned sports – 13 for boys and 13 for girls.
Ohio is the fourth-largest state for high school sports participation behind California, Texas and New York.