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PIAA executive director urges passage of 'Respect the Whistle Act' to protect officials – Pennsylvania Capital-Star - FlagSpin

PIAA executive director urges passage of ‘Respect the Whistle Act’ to protect officials – Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Lombardi told the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee on Monday that a shortage of officials for PIAA games has been helped by recognition and appreciation. And Lombardi said he hopes the legislature will pass a bill aimed at prevent harassment of referees at games.

“These recognition weeks have been very successful in our member schools and have assisted us in recruiting approximately 1,000 new officials,” which includes its junior officials program, Lombardi said.

And while the PIAA currently has close to 14,000 officials, it remains challenging to attract officials in rural areas, Lombardi said. He added that the organization was seeking more female officials, including coaches.

Treatment of officials is also top of mind for the PIAA. 

In late October, the state Senate passed Senate Bill 842, sponsored by state Sen. Jimmy Dillon (D-Philadelphia) known as the “Respect the Whistle Act.” State Rep. Anita Kulik (D-Allegheny) has a companion bill in the state House. The bill would expand current protections to make harassment of sporting officials a third-degree misdemeanor.

“We hope the House will pass this legislation to assist our registered sports officials in their protection from unruly fans,” Lombardi said.

PIAA is gearing up for its inaugural season of girls’ wrestling. In May, PIAA unanimously approved adding it as a varsity sport in Pennsylvania. The first practice date will be Nov. 17, and the first championship will be held in conjunction with the boys’ championship in March, in Hershey.

State Rep. Rob Matzie (D-Beaver) also asked Lombardi if the PIAA had had discussions about potentially adding flag football as a PIAA-sanctioned sport, specifically citing the Olympics adding the sport and its gaining popularity throughout the Commonwealth.  

Lombardi said that the National Football League has been “very strongly behind the initiative of girls’ flag football,” and cited that he believes more than 50 schools in the Philadelphia area are supported by the Eagles, while 28-32 schools in the Pittsburgh-area are supported by the Steelers. 

He specifically cited California, New York, and Florida as examples of states that have sanctioned it as a high school sport.

“But that’s a growing and evolving sport for us,” Lombardi said. “So we’re gonna monitor it and see where it goes.”  

And its NIL program, which lets students benefit from the use of their name and likeness, is going smoothly so far, Lombardi said.  

In December 2022, the PIAA approved an NIL policy, making Pennsylvania one of 29 states that has permitted NIL for high school athletes.

Lombardi noted that collectives — where alumni and other school supporters generate and pool revenue to attract student athletes— are prohibited in the state’s NIL policy. 

“NIL is not pay for play,” Lombardi said. “But when you have collectives that they can consort together for a dollar amount and possibly try to attract students that’s what you get.” 

Lombardi said that students have received products like field hockey sticks or baseball gloves but not large dollar amounts as a result of NIL.

State Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford) asked for an update on co-ops, where schools partner with one another to allow students to play for one combined team

“We’re seeing it more and more particularly in our rural areas,” Topper said. “I think it’s a good thing. I think shared services in public schools are essential as we address the teacher shortage crisis, all those things.”

Lombardi said there’s been an increase in co-ops between PIAA schools for athletics, but said the policy is “somewhat self-policing.”

However, Lombardi applauded the school boards for getting cooperation from the schools on this, adding that the organization monitors it every month.  

Also at Monday’s meeting, the committee approved its 2022 annual report. 

Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) was re-elected as Chair while state Rep. Rob Matzie will serve as Vice Chair. State Sens. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland), Jimmy Dillon (D-Philadelphia), and Rep. Justin Fleming (D-Dauphin) are new members of the committee.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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