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WPIAL Notebook: Officiating gaffes are nothing new, but will things ever improve?

One week into the WPIAL boys and girls soccer playoffs the competition has been good, there have been many exciting games through the first round and quarterfinals.  Maybe most importantly, by proceeding cautiously, with coaches, players, school officials, referees and parents/family members doing their part to ensure a safe environment almost every kid that was on a high soccer roster this fall got to lace up their boots and play. In some respects, considering that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, having gotten this far with a playoff tournament in each classification in the WPIAL has helped provide some sense of normalcy during this unprecedented year.

The playoffs always bring intense games as the knockout stages as top players rise to the occasion, some players who’ve grown and improved through the season are now peaking and putting forth their best performances against the toughest competition.

These kids are laying it all on the line.

This, of course, puts additional pressure on referees.

Again, last night, in boys and girls quarterfinal round matches a few incidents reared their ugly heads and shone the spotlight on officiating miscues.

First, in the South Park-Deer Lakes match, an apparent handball in the box was missed by the officiating crew in overtime of a scoreless draw as South Park were pressing forward for the game-winner after a dangerous free kick into the box.

Deer Lakes would win the match on a Devin Murray strike in the second period of extra time.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video included with Jordan Smith’s tweet from our Twitter account.

Here’s a close-up of the handball in the box.


South Park’s veteran coach Jon Cantwell, who’s squad stood up defensively, weathering the storm throughout the match against a strong, attack-minded Deer Lakes team, was certainly frustrated with the end result.

After his team executed their game plan that put them in position to pull out the win, he had to console his players after being eliminated from the playoffs in cruel fashion.

“It was a tough one to swallow,” Cantwell said. “Very sad that their incompetence or maybe their weakness to make a tough call ended the season and the careers of the South Park players.

In addition, another blunder occurred at ‘The Castle’ in Norwin on Thursday.

In his game report of the North Allegheny-Norwin girls semifinal (won by NA, 3-0) Ed Rosensteel shared another gaffe which came during a penalty kick scenario and later followed up on social media with his additional findings.

Bottom line here — the officials involved in this 4A match didn’t know the rule that the kick should have been retaken in that scenario.

There really are no excuses for that mishap.

Look, there’s no doubt that even at the highest levels of the game, officials are going to make mistakes, but it’s always important to raise the standards. There was a fair amount of upset coaches, players and, of course, parents taking their frustrations out on social media expressing their frustation.

It seems as if officiating standards haven’t been raised since we initially addressed concerns about them on this forum four years ago. Instead, there’s a continued stream of disgust from everyone involved.

However, it is important to note and recognize that the PIAA is struggling to recruit and employ referees. While continuing to demand that enforcement of the game’s rules and play on the field can be better, we should applaud all those officials who have been out there — during a pandemic no less — trying to cover a more stretched out WPIAL schedule and playoff slate that now includes games every night but Sunday and Friday.  There are some officials out there who’ve covered five to six games per week and are doing a great job.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in August that 50 WPIAL soccer officials did not return this year,

Vince Sortino, WPIAL assistant to the executive director, spoke about the situation along with Nick Morea, the male officials representative on the WPIAL board of directors in the article. Sortino told the P-G, that the WPIAL has not received word yet from any schools that don’t have officials to cover games.

“It’s always a concern when you’re losing officials, but I don’t think it’s to the point where it’s a big concern,” Sortino said. “The point is that everyone is working much closer communication-wise. Communication is the most important part of this process.”

Sortino said two factors have had an effect on this shortage.

“The number of officials has been down across the state the past couple years,” Sortino said. “Then this is the year for renewal of clearances for a lot of officials and some of them have chosen not to go through that again. They’re not going through the hassle. On top of that, the COVID hit. We were already lacking officials and now two more things became a reality.”

All of these are factors certainly contribute to these officiating issues.

We have not sugarcoated things or tip-toed around the topic of high school officiating here on Pittsburgh Soccer Now (or our predecessor site, Pittsburgh Soccer Report) in recent years.

In a survey sent to boys coaches, most of the responses in terms of what needs to be improved the most with the high school game revolved around the way the game is officiated.  Feedback came back in unison about officiating concerns relating to two questions:

1.) If you were PIAA Soccer commissioner (if there was one) or have a seat on the rules committee, what rule(s) would you change?

2.) What are the biggest challenges relating to PIAA/WPIAL soccer officials? 

Since you may have missed it published in our WPIAL Notebook a few weeks ago, here are the survey responses below:

If you were PIAA Soccer commissioner (if there was one) or have a seat on the rules committee, what rule(s) would you change? 

  • The first rule I would change, without hesitation, would be moving away from the three whistle system for officials. It’s time to move on and adopt the flag system. It’s challenging to keep the flow of the game when each official calls the game so differently in the center.
  • A definitive offside rule that doesn’t change every season. Make official part of the field of play again.
  • 5-min yellow card caution and moving to FIFA 3 man officiating system
  • I would go to the traditional referee system, one whistle and 2 AR’s
  • I would push to implement the 3 man system, 1 whistle, 2 flags
  • Playoff Seedings would be decided by coaches
  • Make the high school game follow FIFA rules
  • Center referee switching every 27 minutes
  • Move to flag system for refs
  • 3-man system of officiating

What are the biggest challenges relating to PIAA/WPIAL soccer officials?

  • We need more youth in the officials. Nothing against the veterans! Younger officials will help purely based on keeping up with pace of play. They can put themselves in better situations to make calls when running up and down the field. The officials take a lot of guff from coaches, players, and fans. It’s a hard job, but they have to be able to be in the best spot to make the best call.
  • Not enough soccer referees, too many refs that don’t know the game very well, lack of consistency
  • Inconsistency due to changes of center ref and refs not knowing game of soccer well enough
  • 3 or 2 whistle system, age, not knowing basic soccer
  • Having three people with a whistle on the field
  • Rotating referee system and inexperience
  • Inconsistency of officiating
  • Interpretation of rule.
  • Inconsistency
  • inconsistency

No surprises here with responses from the first two questions. If you recall, heading into the 2019 season, the PIAA rejected a pilot proposal by the WPIAL to go with a trial one-whistle system. The momentum toward doing this continues, but in 2020 with the PIAA squarely focused on dealing with COVID-19, it appears that this discussion has been pushed aside.

Here are some of the columns and storylines we’ve shared during the past four years relating to high school officiating.  Within the WPIAL, we certainly applaud their efforts that led to a proposal to a pilot program that would institute a one-whistle system in 2019.  That was voted down by PIAA Soccer Committee.

Analysis: Flawed officiating system continues to plague HS soccer

Are changes coming to high school officiating? PIAA votes Wednesday on WPIAL’s pilot program

Column: PIAA’s rejection of pilot proposal deters momentum for one-whistle system

Most share frustrations with HS officiating system to ‘get conversation started in meaningful way’

And so, here we are again.

One step up, two steps back.

We hope that heading into the new year, the PIAA Soccer committee strongly reconsider the WPIAL’s proposal to pilot the one-whistle system and focus on retraining and recruiting more qualified referees.


John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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