What began as a political dispute among volleyball officials has embroiled the ongoing California state volleyball playoffs, with first-year officials who have come under fire for their contentious decisions overseeing games in place of their long tenured, more respected counterparts.
According to the Sacramento Bee, here's how the unseemly dispute started, and escalated to a near breaking point where coaches and athletes find themselves caught in a diplomatic crossfire during their biggest events:
The Northern California Officials Association (NCOA) has traditionally run all volleyball officiating activity, designated a pool of varsity referees and then assigning them to specific games as available. However, many of the association's most senior members were upset with how those assignments were being made and chose to leave the group, creating the Volleyball Officials Association (VBOA) in June.
The idea was that by creating their own organization, the officials could focus only on volleyball as opposed to all sports, helping create a forum that was more dedicated to monitoring officiating of just volleyball. By doing so, the officials assumed they would then be dispersed to the most important events by the California Interscholastic Federation's Sac-Joaquin Section.
"All we wanted was to have an association that only cares about high school volleyball," Steve Harank, VBOA secretary and former NCOA group leader, told the Bee.
In fact, to fill the empty spots the experienced officials left behind, the NCOA was forced to bring in scores of novice referees, who were then sent to many of the games over which the more senior refs would originally have presided.
Needless to say, the results have not always been pretty.
"A lot of these new officials aren't familiar with the essence of volleyball," Jim Jorgensen, the owner and operator of the group that assigns referees for all Sac-Joaquin sports. "(They're) more concerned with protocol like (a coach's) proximity to the court or if (a) bench jumps up than critical elements of the game."
Meanwhile, many of the officials who used to be high up the varsity hierarchy have been relegated solely to middle school games. While they haven't openly complained about adjudicating matches at that lower level, the senior referees know that the state's highest level of competition has suffered because of their absence.
"It is a sport that is delicate in the different rules and different calls that you have," Paris Kidd, one of the referees who left to join the VBOA (and who is pictured above), told the Bee. "Many of them are judgment calls."
In a year when the NCOA has brought in more new referees than ever before, many of those calls have been made by men and women who have little practical experience witnessing how those rules have traditionally been interpreted in games before, and now they're making the most important calls of the entire year in the playoffs.
For their part, the area's most respected coaches don't like it one bit.
"I'm just disappointed about that we have good refs that aren't being used," said Dave Muscarella, coach of defending Division II sectional champion Rocklin (Calif.) High told the Bee. "It affects the kids and what they're doing. There has been a big difference."