The texts and messages came in not long after Carroll’s 62-46 loss to Crown Point last Saturday, ending the Chargers’ quest for their first-ever state championship game appearance.
All of the correspondence was regarding the same subject – how could an official from Crown Point be allowed to do a game in which his home school is playing in semistate?
Furthermore, how could an official who resides in South Bend be placed on the crew that worked the Norwell and South Bend Washington contest?
To be up front, this is not a column attacking officials, so it should not be construed that way. This is a column to call out the laziness of the Indiana High School Athletic Association and its assignment of officials deep in the postseason. The two officials in question could have easily been switched – one on Game 1 and the other on Game 2. Instead, you open the door for conspiracy theorists who are quick to blame the officiating for why a team lost.
No matter what situation they are in, officials always lose. Either way, a fan base is going to be angry. We all know the type – the people who will blame outside forces, be it officials or coaching or bad sight lines (yes, that’s been heard), to find reason their team lost instead of the obvious, they just weren’t good enough that day.
“Officials can’t win,” texted one local official to Bounce. “People always want to look at the officials when they lose.”
But the stars aligned on Saturday to where open questions were asked regarding the officials. One of those in question is Andy Simpson, who at the state football championships last November was honored with the 2020 Interscholastic Athletic Officials Association award for excellence in the sport of football. It was Simpson who called the majority of the fouls on Carroll during the semistate game and also had a heated exchange with Carroll coach Mark Redding.
Let’s be clear again, Simpson is not being accused of playing favorites. He is one of the most accomplished officials in the entire state, having worked multiple state championship games in football, boys and girls basketball and softball. But couldn’t the IHSAA have done a better job making sure that their officials were not calling games involving their local teams?
Imagine in pre-game ceremonies last Saturday if LaPorte had announced the officials of both games, along with their hometowns. What do you think the reaction from the fans would have been if it was heard that Norwell was facing South Bend Washington with a South Bend official and Carroll was in the same boat with Crown Point?
These issues are not restricted to basketball. Last November, Bishop Dwenger traveled to Zionsville for a regional showdown in Class 5A. All five officials on that crew were from the Indianapolis area. Did the officials cost the Saints in a 30-21 loss? Probably not, but it is all about perception and the fairness of the tournament.
And, people have a tendency not to forget such instances.
Back in 1976, North Side boys basketball was facing Marion in the semistate championship game at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Coach By Hey, who had not been hit with a technical all season, was whistled for one with less than two minutes left in a tight game by an official from Gas City, a stone’s throw from Marion. The Giants ended up tying the game and winning in overtime.
To this day, uttering the three words “Gas City official” can get a rise out of some North Side faithful who vividly remember the game.
“I always have said in any sport once you get to the sectional finals you should NOT have local guys officiate the games, except in basketball,” messaged an official to Bounce.
So, how does the IHSAA prevent such issues? While we hear so much about the lack of officials to work games, the numbers game is not an issue once you reach a certain point in postseason tournaments. There are more than enough capable officials, including Simpson, who can work games anywhere, just NOT involving their “home” team.
Does this column sound like sour grapes? Maybe to some. But this is definitely not an issue affecting only teams from northeast Indiana, merely these are the examples in which we are familiar with.
It comes down to accountability and responsibility. The IHSAA has a lot to deal with and a lot on its plate, that much is clear. But more effort and attention must be placed on making sure that their officials are insulated from any and all speculation regarding fairness. In the charged environment that is competitive high school sports (some would say overcharged, and Bounce would agree), any hint of favoritism can be magnified.
Saturday’s situation at LaPorte should have never happened. Let’s hope the IHSAA makes it a priority to prevent it from occurring again.
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