GFOA officials

The officials have their own standards for staying safe.

Credit: GFOA

During the preparation for the start of high school football, careful consideration has been taken to ensure the safety of the players, coaches and support staff.

A long list of safety measures has been put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The officials are taking steps to stay safe, too. 

The refs are typically overlooked – except when a close call occurs – but the guys in the striped shirts are an essential part of the game. In fact, the football game could not take place if it weren’t for the work of the whistle blowers.

And it is important to keep them safe, too.

“We’re going to give it our best and do what we can for the kids,” said Spencer Smith, a board member and past president of the Georgia Football Officials Association (GFOA), the older officiating group in the state. “That’s what we’re in it for, to help the kids.”

The GFOA has taken the initiative to approach the athletic directors at the host school and get the answer to several questions:

•    Will the officials have a designated dressing area that will meet the standards set by the Georgia High School Association?
•    Will the school have enough designated parking spots for the officials near the stadium?
•    Will the school be following safety measures and social distancing in the pressbox around the official clock operator?
•    Will the chain crew members be wearing masks? (The officials request they do.)
•    Will there be any other testing procedures at the game?

GFOA officials

GFOA officials huddle for their pregame session.

The head coach for each team is required to affirm that his team is COVID-19 free, as mandated by the GHSA. This is to ensure the players have been screened for the virus and are not infected.

For additional safety, the officials will bring their own water bottle to the game and will have a cooler on the field. The officials also want to know whether the schools can provide a “water person” to bring the bottles onto the field during timeouts. 

As you might expect, many veteran officials have opted to sit out the season. Many of them have years of experience, but they have chosen to wait it out. Smith said 36 officials opted out of the GFOA this year. 

The GFOA will use six-man crews this fall, although you’ll see seven on some of the early games before the schedule starts to fill up. The officials will be allowed to wear masks, but they aren’t required, and have the option to use an electronic whistle.

The refs will observe social distancing, as best as possible, but Smith said, “Sometimes you’re going to have to get in-between kids. It’s football. It’s going to happen.”

Smith is realistic in his outlook. 

“(COVID) is going to be in the back of our minds,” he said. “I think if we take the proper procedures we’ll be OK.”

Smith said recruiting new officials has been a nightmare. Only a handful of new prospects were added to the roster over the last six months. Smith said those interested can contact the organization at