While the safety of athletes is on everyone’s mind during the COVID-19 pandemic, the officials are often forgotten. Referees and umpires have to take the field along with student-athletes — many of them within six feet of those players.
One case where this safety is even more crucial is intramural sports, where the referees for the Mercerians playing sports are fellow students. So how is Mercer’s intramural system adjusting to give these referees the same safety measures as players?
To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercer University’s Recreational Sports and Wellness and the intramural sports staff changed the Policy and Procedures Handbook for 2020-2021 to include a section regarding COVID-19.
That sections included rules such as strongly encouraging face coverings for officials and players, social distancing protocols which require those on the sidelines to be six feet apart and a temperature check done before games.
Gianni Calicchio, a third-year mechanical engineering major, has been a referee for two and a half years.
“On the field, at least for outdoor sports, really, nothing has changed. The only thing that changed is the sport,” Calicchio said. “Normally at this time we'd be offering 7-v-7 flag football. Currently, we're offering 4-v-4 flag football so it's smaller sized games so we have fewer participants out to minimize contact on the fields.”
While the players and referees can have their masks off for outdoor sports, that isn’t the case for indoor sports like basketball and volleyball which haven’t begun play yet.
“Everyone, including the officials, has to be wearing masks. So the only person on the court for volleyball that will not be wearing masks is the official because they are at an elevation difference,” Calicchio said.
As for basketball, the jury is still out.
“I have no idea about basketball, but if they do basketball it's gonna be very limited players like flag football,” Roberts said.
The referees aren’t just responsible for their own safety, though. The officials are also in charge of enforcing COVID-19 regulations during intramural events. Alyssa Roberts, another referee officiating for flag football, found that enforcing the new rules has turned out more challenging than she originally thought.
“So as soon as you step off that field you gotta put on a mask, but nobody's listening, though,” Roberts said. “We had so many issues with that.”
Players not listening to or purposely antagonizing officials has also been an issue, Roberts said.
“We had a frat team and some other team that were taking it way too seriously, and because it’s my first time I'm making some mistakes, right? But every mistake got blown up. And they're, like, yelling at me,” Roberts said
Since flag football has different referring positions, Roberts isn’t always the one calling the flags, but that doesn’t stop players from yelling at the nearest official.
“I almost start crying in the middle of that field. I was like, please leave me alone,” Roberts said.
Roberts said her stress is only compounded by the rules added because of COVID-19.
“I had a couple people ask me if I enjoy working as an official. As a job, yes. This is one of the more fun jobs I've had. If I wasn't getting paid, no,” Roberts said.
Keith Holmes Jr. ‘22 is a journalism and creative writing double major who has worked with The Cluster as general staff since his Sophomore year. Keith has received Best in SNO awards for his sports articles along with years of work at Mercer’s ESPN3 branch. Keith spends his free time playing video games and writing fiction around campus.