Steve Wodarski remains hopeful that there will be a first season for him to serve as state interpreter of the International Approved Association of Basketball Officials (IAABO) Board 10. He also wants to get out there and officiate high school basketball games.
“I’m forever an optimist. I’m very hopeful that we will get to have it. I’m also hopeful that it extends further than just March,” said Wodarski, 58, who would be in his 35th season officiating if the season is played. “Most of the guys want to be out there and start officiating. This is what we do. It’s in our blood.”
Like Wodarski, Charley Harbach is 58, also a state interpreter for a board (7 in Litchfield County) and works in education in addition to being a longtime official. If the season were to happen, it would be No. 37 for Harbach.
“It’s been part of my life for a long time,” Harbach said. “My wife has said, ‘You are a little grouchy.’ Certainly it is because of that (the possibility of not officiating this season),” said Harbach, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at The Gilbert School in Winsted.
Decisions on the winter season likely will not be made until Jan. 7, the next scheduled CIAC Board of Control meeting. Right now, preseason practice is scheduled to begin Jan. 19.
Harbach is also the state’s interpreter for the sport. The state IAABO Rules Interpreters Committee came up with a set of guidelines for the CIAC to approve or modify if there is a season.
A lot of that would have to do with the social distancing guidelines already in place: Limit the number of people in the building; make sure everyone who does come in gets their temperature checked; limit the number of people in the pregame captain’s meeting with officials; and eliminate pregame and postgame handshakes.
Whether or not that will include mask-wearing is still to be determined. In all likelihood, it will be for players, coaches and referees. Wodarski, also the athletic director at Wilcox Tech in Meriden, said he wore a mask while officiating during the final week of the fall league season that features high school teams.
“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” Wodarski said. “It is inconvenient, but it can be done.”
Wodarski said he tried to use an electronic whistle.
“When I went to the electronic whistle, my timing was off,” Wodarski said. “There is a delay when you use an electronic whistle.”
Harbach said he will be using a Fox 40 Whistle Mask. Not only is it washable, it has a pouch in the front for the built-in whistle clip.
“I don’t need a lanyard,” Harbach said. “And you blow the whistle into the pouch. I’ve suggested it to several people. It’s a matter of personal preference.”
Harbach said officials will be able to use an electronic whistle, but “the thing about those electronic whistles is the larger the crowd gets, the harder it is to hear inside one of those bigger gyms.”
Harbach said he officiated a couple of prep school boys basketball games before Gov. Ned Lamont paused all youth sports. He said there were issues for the players to keep their masks on while competing. He simply asked the players to pull their masks back up to the proper position.
“We didn’t stop play to ask them to pull their masks up,” Harbach said.
Some changes the interpreters have put up for consideration include: no jump ball to start the game, using a coin toss instead; stand 6 feet away from the inbounder; and stand underneath the backboard and then bounce the ball to the free-throw shooter.
Officials will not only have to come to the game dressed, they may have to depart the gymnasium in uniform as well.
“I don’t see any change in that moving forward into the winter season,” Harbach said. “We will need a place to talk and prepare for the game. We may have to do it in our cars before we come into the school.”
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s COVID-19 protocols require everyone — including players and officials — to wear masks. Only one captain from each team and one official can be allowed at the pregame meeting. Halftimes are eliminated — instead extending times between quarters to 2 1/2 minutes and timeouts extended by 1 minute, 15 seconds for sanitization and social distance purposes.
The ball will be changed at the end of each quarter. In free-throw situations, a maximum of four players will be allowed in the lane in Massachusetts games. On a dead-ball attempt (on the first of two free throws awarded), no one will be allowed in the lane. Balls will be inbounded at the foul line extended instead of underneath the basket to avoid congestion in the lane.
Officials will be asked to be quick with their whistles during a tie-up situation to limit those close contact situations. And along those lines, if teams are going to foul the player receiving the inbounds pass, they have to let the official know it is coming then tag the player so the official can call the quick foul.
“A lot of things they came up with in Massachusetts, in my opinion, really have an impact on the game and officiating,” Wodarski said. “Personally, I’m hoping these rule modifications don’t come to fruition in Connecticut because it’s going to take some getting used to.”
Another factor to be determined would be whether fans are allowed at games and if so, how many?
“In my humble opinion if we do play, everyone can stream the games. So the only people allowed in the gym is anyone directly involved with the game,” Harbach said.
Buddy Chernovetz, the commissioner for New Haven County’s Board 10, expects most of his officials will be ready to go if there is a season.
“We have some guys who will opt out based on health issues,” Chernovetz said. “It’s not even age. It is predicated on the fact that they don’t want to be stuck in quarantine if someone playing in a game (that they officiated in) ends up getting the virus.”
Pete Carroll, the Fairfield County Board No. 9 commissioner, said he had about half a dozen guys opt out, all different ages for various COVID-related reasons, either their own health concerns or don’t want to risk infecting loved ones they live with.
Carroll also said they were training new officials using outside courts and zoom training.
“We think we will have enough referees to cover all the games, but we have to wait and see what the schedules look like,” Carroll said. “So much is still up in the air. A lot of effort is going into this and we will be ready when it’s time to go. They just want to get going, just like the players.
Chernovetz shares Wodarski’s optimism on a season happening.
“I’m of the opinion if you do what you are supposed to do, the season progresses and everyone will be happy,” Chernovetz said. “The basic issue is to try to get everybody on the same page about how this will proceed.”
firstname.lastname@example.org; @nhrJoeMorelli. Scott Ericson contributed to this story.