Refs say they’re not too worried about being back on field

Downstate officials were preparing for a winter football season the DIAA’s decision to move sports back to the fall. Delaware State News file photos

DOVER — Pete Celiberti is in his fifth decade of officiating football.

And the 78-year-old Dover man isn’t about to let anything keep him off the field.

But Celiberti also takes the threat of COVID-19 very seriously.

So when he works a game these days, he’ll not only wear a mask but he’ll also use an electronic whistle and have on disposable gloves, as well.

“I will wear a mask continuously for six hours,” Celiberti said about refereeing youth flag football games. “I may have lost a step along the way but I don’t have any issues being able to breathe that length of time.”

While some people may be thinking mainly of the teen-aged student-athletes who play high school sports, referees — many of whom are considerably older than the players — are also part of the games.

If high school athletics do return in Delaware next month, referees will also be potentially exposing themselves to the spread of COVID-19 during games.

Tom MacLeish, the president of the Delmarva Football Officials Association, believes there will be enough referees to work Henlopen Conference games. But he also thinks some officials will opt out of the season — either because of concerns about their own health or because of concerns about the chance of spreading COVID-19 to family members.

“I’m very blessed, I’m very healthy — I’m happy about that,” said MacLeish, who has been an official for 24 years. “But I am concerned because I have a 91-year-old mother-in-law. … It’s about just being careful. I’ve got grandkids.

“I’m going to be on the field but I have total respect for those … who are older and do have some health issues. I respect them when they go, ‘I’m not going to do it this year.’ I understand that and support them completely.”

Vicki Rhodes, president of the Southern Delaware Field Hockey Officials Association, thinks her organization will have enough available officials, too. She hasn’t heard too many field hockey officials saying they would sit out the season.

“I’m even one of the older officials and I have no concerns,” said Rhodes. “I don’t have any underlying causes. I can’t wait.

Tom MacLeish said he understands why some football officials might opt out this season.

“We’re so excited because we love the sport. We like the sport as much as the girls that are playing. Most of us have umpired for several years.”

But Rhodes said she doesn’t think referees should have to wear masks while the games are being played. She points out that they weren’t required to wear face coverings during summer-league games.

The only time they’d put their masks up was when they were coming and going from the field or when they were stopped and having a conversation. Rhodes said she doesn’t know of any issues arising from those contests.

“If we have to wear them to umpire — and so the girls get to play — we will wear them,” she said. “To run for 60 minutes breathing through a mask. … I don’t know. I’ve never done that. None of us have. It’s a little concern of ours but I don’t know what you do if they say that’s what you have to do.”

Since social distancing six feet away from others isn’t out of the questions for officials in some sports, there may still be some debate about how much referees actually have to wear masks during the game.

MacLeish said the football officials have continued to prepare for a season. But they were also expecting the season to start in late winter after the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association voted in early August to delay the season.

Now the officials will have to switch gears again. The organization is scheduled to meet today to get back on track.

As for referees monitoring whether players are wearing face coverings on the field, MacLeish thinks they would be able to help out. He said it wouldn’t be any different than an official telling a player to put in his mouthpiece.

“If a player would draw his mask out, take a deep breath and put it back, I would understand that,” said MacLeish. “(But) if we see a player pull it off completely, I can almost guarantee you the play is going to stop on the field. That’s my thought.

“The safety of these players is what is the utmost importance for every official on that field.”