High School Sports

MHSAA forms new basketball officials group in attempt to break strike

A referee watches as Pascagoula's Jakwaize Walker and Biloxi's Martell Turner dive for a loose ball during their game at Pascagoula High gym in December.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD A referee watches as Pascagoula's Jakwaize Walker and Biloxi's Martell Turner dive for a loose ball during their game at Pascagoula High gym in December. SUN HERALD

The Mississippi High School Activities Association is attempting to form a new basketball officials association on the Coast due to the local group's plans to strike the upcoming high school basketball season.

The Gulf Coast Basketball Officials Association has decided to strike the upcoming season due to the MHSAA's refusal to meet the group's pay raise demands for the state's basketball officials.

MHSAA associate director Rickey Neaves sent an email to members of the Gulf Coast Basketball Officials Association on Thursday morning asking them to abandon their group and sign up for a new association:

"It has become apparent that the GCBOA will not work the 2015-16 basketball season," Neaves said in the email. "It is also apparent that basketball has to be played for the sake of our schools and (our) students of South MS. Therefore, a new association is being formed and we would welcome your membership.

"There would be no cost to you as you have already paid dues to the GCBOA. Please indicate back to me by e-mail if you would like to become a member and officiate games in the 2015-16 season. Please respond by Monday, Oct. 26. We look forward to hearing from you."

The GCBOA held a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday night to go over rules changes prior to the start of the high school basketball season with jamborees set for Oct. 31. Games will begin on Nov. 5.

The officials left the meeting still planning to strike.

GCBOA president Joe Davis, a Pascagoula resident, said he was disappointed in the MHSAA's actions on Thursday.

"We've tried to keep this cordial and professional, but that's the tactics they've used," Davis said. "It's been nothing but threats since day one. They've told us that we'll never referee again and they've threatened to form another association. They've even said that guys who work multiple sports won't be able to work those sports."

Davis said that he's aware of two members of his association that are currently working with the MHSAA.

"But that's neither here nor there. The majority of our people are still steadfast with our position," Davis said. "Even if they're forming a new association, they can't do it without membership. They've got the same people to choose from. They're not going to find 78 new people to officiate basketball. It's a matter of my people standing fast."

Davis said there's the potential that the MHSAA's plan to form a new association could draw in some of his younger members.

"I can reassure them that if they stand firm with us, it will eventually be OK," Davis said. "We want to get (the MHSAA) to the table to negotiate."

Davis said that his group last met with the MHSAA the first week of September to make a proposal.

The initial GCBOA proposal was to increase pay from $40 per game to $55. Official crews work two games per night, making each official's compensation $80 a night last season.

The MHSAA approved a $5-per-game increase for the upcoming season with the understanding that all officials' fees would be re-evaluated moving forward.

The GCBOA made a counteroffer that would bring the increase to $10 a game with $5 added per game over each of the next three years.

The MHSAA declined to meet their demands.

"We don't think we can get any more fair than that," Davis said. "It would take three years to get to where we should be. This is the response we get, to form another organization."

Davis said that basketball officials are the lowest paid out of all groups that officiate games for the MHSAA.

The GCBOA is the lone group of the 10 officials associations in the state that decided to strike.

There had been communication among multiple officials associations about asking for better pay, but the GCBOA was the only group that moved forward with demands.

Georgia basketball 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 for mileage.

The GCBOA represents basketball officials in Jackson, Harrison, Hancock, George, Stone and Pearl River counties.