There has been so much written and talked about surrounding the high school athletes and their coaches in Illinois dealing with the roller coaster ride that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic. From altering everything from how and when they can practice to when games will hopefully be played, it’s been a very rough stretch, to say the least.
Along the way, there has been another group — over 13,000 strong — that have also been dealing with the absence of high school athletics and that would be Illinois High School Association certified officials.
Mendota’s Patti Blumhorst has been an IHSA volleyball official for 29 years and in her career, she has worked five state final matches and was named the IHSA Girls Volleyball Official of the Year for the 2019-20 season.
“I assign volleyball officials for probably 50-plus schools and I really feel for the athletic directors,” said Blumhorst, who is an administration assistant at Mendota High School. “I’m always working ahead to the next fall season, so having the season moved to this spring has been tough and a scramble. Right now I have everything filled for the IESA, which is scheduled to run from the middle of January until the end of February and I’m still working on the IHSA scheduled March to April.
“For me, I miss officiating, but it wasn’t a bad thing as our family had our first grandchild this fall and my husband had just retired. But I will say for some of the officials, along with just loving doing what they do, it was losing a huge second income. A lot of officials work five days a week and then tournaments on Saturday’s so that’s a good chunk of money they have missed out on.
“As I said, I miss the interaction with players, coaches and other officials. Especially at state tournament time because whether you are working or just go to watch, that is where everyone gets together and I did really miss that this past fall.”
Veteran IHSA football official Dave Purvis said this fall for himself had a bit of an empty feeling to it, but he also knows he wasn’t alone. Purvis, who lives in central Illinois and founded the East Central Illinois Football Officials Association, said along with just missing Friday nights, he had hopes that a third title game (he worked the state finals in 2011 and 2017) might be a possibility in 2020.
“My crew, we enjoy what we do, so not being able to officiate football this past fall was really tough. I’ve been doing this 17 years and come August my Friday and Saturdays are booked,” said Purvis, who is a corporate account manager for Motion Industries in Mattoon, which specializes in industrial products, electrical, fluid power and power transmission design and procurement. “It’s a lifestyle, it’s what you become accustomed to. It’s hanging with your guys you don’t get to see all week, catching up for a little bit, doing a little pregame then working a great football game.
“We all know the players love playing, the coaches love coaching, and well, we are the third team on the field and we love it as well. I miss the interactions we have with the players, coaches and athletic directors. So to say we miss officiating football would be an understatement. It’s been a huge void.
“The ECIFO has continued to have meetings via Zoom or Facebook throughout all of this to stay ready for when football returns. We have been going over plays and rulings in these meetings and I also think we all watch as much college and professional football as we can from an official’s standpoint. We will be ready when the games return.”
One of Purvis’ crewmates, Mike Nichols, was able to fill the emptiness of officiating a little this fall but said while it was a new and different experience, he missed working football games in Illinois as he has for the past 18 seasons — including working the Class 7A title game in 2017.
“When I heard that Illinois was moving the football season to the spring, I actually took the test and received a license from Indiana,” said Nichols, who lives in the Charleston area and also officiates volleyball, basketball and track and field. “I then jokingly put on Facebook that if anyone was looking for a white hat (referee) or umpire I would be available for nine weeks. It wasn’t 15 minutes later that I had messages and I ended up working six or seven games.
“The first couple of weeks our crew would text back and forth, ‘We should be doing a game tonight’ and then that week when it would have been the beginning of the playoffs really got to me. The state finals weekend was tough as well, the thought of ‘We could be getting ready to work another one.’ I did meet a number of new officials and coaches in Indiana, but I really missed seeing some of the coaches here in Illinois that I have seen every fall and of course working with my normal crew every Friday night.
“We have done a number of virtual meetings where we discuss rules and situations with our organization, so that was a way to stay in touch with fellow officials, but not being able to get together and work games have been really tough on all of us.”