Northern Virginia Football Officials Association Commissioner Dennis Hall called a meeting in April of local Virginia athletic directors to explain a numbers problem.
Hall had 27 officiating crews ready for the upcoming high school season. The association had contracts with 61 schools in the Virginia High School League and four private schools. The math meant there were not enough crews for every team to play Friday night.
“I told them we had a shortage and there are two solutions,” Hall said. “Some schools have to move away from Friday. The other option is, if our schools don’t work with us, then we’re going to have to drop some schools.”
The schools obliged, and as a result, Thursday night football is now part of the weekly routine across Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Through seven weeks of play, local Virginia schools will have played 19 home games on Thursday nights — 12 in Fairfax, five in Loudoun and two in Prince William.
“One of the things we’ve always admired about Dennis and his association is that they put out quality officials. That’s one of the reasons we were all willing to work with them,” said Champe Athletic Director Joe Breinig Jr., whose Knights hosted Park View on Thursday, Sept. 22. “A lot of other associations don’t invest in the training, and that means a lot to us.”
From June until the season starts in late August, NVFOA officials train Tuesday, Thursday and sometimes Saturday for 2 1/2 hours. At Fairfax High, referees simulate game situations on the field and review film in the classroom. Referees also must pass online tests to prove their knowledge of the game.
In a referee’s first year of training, he or she will work youth, freshman and junior varsity games and as a clock operator for varsity. After two summers of training, referees are eligible to become a field crew member for a varsity game, which features five referees and a clock operator.
“We take pride in our training. We don’t just send anybody out to work a game. You have to put in the time training. For some people who are thinking about joining, that scares them away,” Hall said. “Rules are designed for safety, and we’re a little more strict than other associations. We do what we’re supposed to do.”
But the move to Thursday nights had the potential to cost host schools. Fans are less likely to show up and pay for a ticket on a school night, several local athletic directors said.
To combat those concerns, Champe and Heritage, which was scheduled to host Park View Thursday night, made special efforts to advertise their Thursday night home games to the community. Both schools dedicated the game to their feeder schools by selling T-shirts at elementary schools and inviting middle school bands to perform at the game.
Four games were scheduled for Thursday night in Fairfax, in part because the county has a teacher work day Friday, so students will not be in the classroom Friday morning.
But there are problem spots on the schedule. There are 28 games scheduled at Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William schools on Friday, Oct. 28 , and on some nights, not all 27 of the NVFOA’s crews are available. Hall says it’s too late to ask schools to move games scheduled for Oct. 28, so he has begun looking for help from outside officiating crews.
“With all the new schools opening up in the area, it makes it tough on us. If people don’t move games, we’ll have to start dropping some schools,” Hall said. “It’s by the skins of our teeth we cover all these games.”
In recent years the NVFOA has fluctuated between 24 and 29 varsity crews, but with Prince William’s Colgan High set to join the fast-growing varsity football ranks next fall, Hall said he welcomes reinforcements.
“We’re open to new recruits.”