It’s a topic that probably won’t go away until significant changes are made, but for now, the status of the way high school soccer is officiated in Western Pennsylvania remains the same as its been since before the turn of the century — using a three-whistle system.
In a new edition of PSN 1on1, I finally caught up with a Western Pennsylvania coaching icon, Gene Klein, and wanted to get his feedback on this issue. In addition, I did also ask Klein for his thoughts on the announcement that the Riverhounds’ will be building in partnership with Allegheny Health Network, a new training complex at Montour Junction.
Klein got started in coaching at the high school level, where he was at the helm at Quaker Valley High School from 1981 through 2005, then returned in 2011 to lead the Quakers for a second run that lasted through 2015. When his high school coaching career ended, Klein finished with 505 career wins, a state record six PIAA titles and seven WPIAL titles. Klein was also involved with the Riverhounds organization since its inception. He was an assistant on its first-ever team in 1999, as part of John Kowalski‘s staff. He would later become the club’s head coach from 2005 through 2009, and also served as Technical Director.
Klein is still involved with the game in many ways, including providing color commentary for Riverhounds games, including this past Saturday’s win at Highmark Stadium. And that’s when I caught up with him.
I was particularly interested in getting Klein’s take on Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League’s (District 7 in Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, PIAA), proposed pilot program intended to change from the current three-whistle system being used by the PIAA to the one-whistle officiating system that’s used at most every other level of soccer.
The PIAA rejected this proposal at its latest board meeting in July.
Although Klein hasn’t coached at the high school level in a few years, he emphasized that PIAA cannot wait too much longer to make these changes.
“It’s very detrimental to the development of the game in Pennsylvania,” Klein said. “Players grow up playing in one-whistle system year-round, then they come in, and they have three rotating guys. It hurts the game. It hurts the development of officiating.”
Click here to listen to my full interview with Klein, as he outlined in more detail about some of the major drawbacks for why the current system of officiating is hurting the development of the game.
Many coaches have shared both their frustrations and optimism on this issue.
One of those, Ryan Kelly, will be a contributor to our high school coverage this coming season on Pittsburgh Soccer Now, and he is very optimistic where things are going.
“I think everyone paying attention is a little disappointed that the decision was to not approve the proposal,” Kelly, current Century United and former Seton LaSalle boys coach, said. “On the other hand, if this becomes an item of change to be implemented for the 2020 season by the PIAA, then this proposal did its job raising the concern about the current structure. It sounds like the PIAA will make this an agenda topic moving forward, so good on them.”
“Referees are overly scrutinized as it is, and I think the current system gives parents, players and coaches another lightning rod to express concern during games (right or wrong). The existing 3-man system has obvious flaws to those who have exposure to the USSF system. Hopefully this proposal elevates the PIAA discussion and implementation of the system used nationally.”