With hopes of getting what it believes is a long-overdue pay raise, the Gulf Coast Officials Association has voted to go on strike ahead of the upcoming high school basketball season.
The GCOA is one of 10 officials associations in Mississippi and the lone group to vote to strike. The group represents officials in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, George, Stone and Pearl River counties.
The basketball season is fast approaching with jamborees set to begin Oct. 31 and games starting Nov. 5.
GCOA president Joe Davis, a Pascagoula resident, said Friday basketball officials are the lowest-paid group in the state among all high school sports officials.
The 78-member GCOA put forth a proposal in July to increase pay from $40 per game to $55. Official crews work two games per night, so each official's compensation was $80 a night last year.
"With that ($15-per-game) increase, that would have removed us from being the lowest paid officials in the state," Davis said. "We also did a comparative analysis of other states and we're also near the bottom of the list with one other state being below us."
Officiating crews work basketball games in groups of two or three.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association did approve a $5-per-game increase for the upcoming season with the understanding that all officials' fees would be re-evaluated moving forward.
Davis said the GCOA's counter offer would bring the increase to $10 a game with $5 added over each of the next three years.
MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said Friday he hopes the matter can be resolved soon.
"We've been talking to those officials," he said. "We hope things will work out. We're planning to have basketball this season."
The GCOA's initial strike vote came Aug. 9 and Davis said that move was not something that happened overnight.
"Their argument is that budgets are already set for the schools," he said. "Our position is that we presented this long before budgets were set. They chose not to act on it. The $10 they approved after budgets were set. They also said that they're concerned not only about basketball, but all sports. If that's the case, we wouldn't have been so far off scale to other sports."
Pass Christian athletic director Buddy Kennedy, who is also Pass' boys basketball coach, has seen the problem brewing for several years.
"I kind of understand both sides of the issue," Kennedy said. "Schools are kind of expecting to pay the same price they paid last year. The other side of the coin is that basketball refs haven't had a raise in a number of years.
"I think that they deserve to get the money. I support them in that. But I do understand it will place a burden on schools with the increase. It's a double-edged sword. I hope that it's going to get worked out before the basketball season starts."
Davis said Georgia officials are the highest paid in the Southeast with a flat fee of $125 per night. Louisiana officials make $50 per game and are compensated up to $124 depending on mileage.
Mississippi officials are not paid mileage.
Hinton said there is no backup plan if the GCOA strike continues into the season, but Davis said he fears officials from the state's other nine associations and possibly others from Louisiana and Alabama would fill their spots.
"We'd be really disappointed if officials from Alabama and Louisiana work games," Davis said. "They already make more than we make."