State and local budgets are tight across the country, and all indications are that they'll only get tighter in the near future. Yet referees in Louisiana still decided they needed to move forward with a work stoppage designed to force a pay raise by halting the high school basketball season.
According to the Alexandria Town Talk, the strike was organized by basketball officiating associations in Alexandria, Hammond, Monroe and Shreveport, and began on Tuesday night. All referees in those four associations began rejecting assignments to future games, forcing a fleet of cancellations.
"There is not a basketball official in this state that doesn't want to be on the floor Tuesday," Louisiana High School Officials Association president Bryan Greenwood told the Town Talk. "If it was all about the money, then they wouldn't be doing it in the first place."
The four officials groups currently striking attempted to get cooperation from other associations across the state, but the Louisiana High School Activities Association reported that officials from all other major metro areas had agreed to complete the season.
The strike is designed to raise pay for officials in Louisiana to a rate near the national average. The state offers the lowest pay per game, some $9 lower than neighboring Mississippi, which has the second-lowest per game pay. A measure to raise officials' pay to the Mississippi rates was rejected overwhelmingly by the whole of the LHSAA, which is made up of all of the principals of Louisiana high schools, following its unanimous approval by the LHSAA executive committee in 2010.
"We are the lowest-paid officials in the U.S.," said Lee Sanders, vice president of the Alexandria Basketball Officials Association. "We felt that the proposal was reasonable."
Yet as reasonable as those improvements may seem, they were deemed as too significant an expense increase by Louisiana principals, with those who would speak on the record speculating that the overall economic swoon was behind its rejections.
That hardly made it an easier blow to take for Greenwood and his association.
"I was shocked and hurt and very disappointed," Greenwood said.
Equally shocked were area basketball coaches, who suddenly had to find ways to keep their players sharp despite an unexpected layoff.
"It is a really bad time for this to happen," Alexandria Senior High boys basketball coach Alan Tinsley told the Town Talk. "It is an issue that has nothing to do with the players. It is an uncomfortable and unfortunate situation for everyone involved.
"We will go through the normal process and prepare for the game. After that we will just take it day by day."