ELYRIA, Ohio (WJW) — A threatened boycott by high school football referees across the state of Ohio could affect one of the area’s biggest week one rivalries when the 2022 season kicks off in August.
The Elyria Catholic Panthers and the Elyria High School Pioneers are both preparing for the cross-town rivalry for which host Elyria Catholic is bringing in additional bleachers to accommodate an expected overflow crowd.
“It’s really exciting, obviously, for the city of Elyria that everybody is looking forward to week one,” said Elyria Catholic Athletic Director Jim Piazza.
“It’s a big deal. Two good teams battling cross-town rivals,” said Elyria High School head football coach Devlin Culliver.
“A lot of these kids got to grow up together so getting the opportunity to go out and play against people you know real closely makes it more fun,” said Elyria Catholic head coach Brian Fox.
The rivalry dates back to 2010 with some interruptions through the years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic when football games were canceled.
The Elyria Catholic athletic director, who was coaching softball at Keystone at the time, says he will never forget the look of disappointment on kids faces when they were told that their seasons were going to be canceled.
He says he hopes never to have to see that look again, but there is the chance the upcoming Aug. 19 rivalry game against Elyria might also be cancelled.
Cleveland Football Officials Association Secretary Tony Bondra tells FOX 8 News that Ohio’s high school referees are among the lowest paid in the country.
The average pay across the state is $72 per official per game. Officials are seeing a graduating pay raise of at least $80 each per game this coming football season with raises to $90 a game next year and $100 a game in 2024.
“We want to work with the athletic directors, some of them are working with us , some conferences have summarily rejected any increase in pay so. I guess. if you want to call it the target of the boycott will be them,” Bondra said during an interview with FOX 8 last week.
Bondra says officials across the state want to put up a unified front.
“Our association voted almost unanimously to boycott some, all, Friday night first week games unless all local conferences were at the minimum of $80 per game,” he told Fox 8.
Elyria Catholic’s Athletic Director says all of the money they bring in comes from the gate proceeds at their games and the money goes to support a number of things in addition to football. An additional $120 per game is not something that can be made up easily.
“I’ve heard so many different things right now and that is one of the things I did hear, that they would show up do the coin toss and leave or they are not going to show up at all,” Piazza said. “You know it’s a tough situation I understand what they are asking, but there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. In the long haul I just hope everybody thinks of the kids.”
“We don’t have the power to change anything like that so all we can do is control what we can control so we are going to go out there and handle our business every single day and Aug. 19 we’ll figure it out,” said Elyria Catholic head coach Brian Fox
Elyria has the bragging rights leading into this year’s rivalry game having won five of the last six games. Their coach says he was not even aware of the referees demands until very recently and it is not at all impacting his team’s preparation for week one and for the upcoming season.
“I’m hoping that they get it resolved before week one, but we are not factoring that into what we are doing right now,” said Culliver.