Colorado's mask requirement complicates high school basketball season for some referees

Jeff Letofsky
The Pueblo Chieftain
Pueblo basketball officials Jerry Santos, left, and Ted Garcia discuss strategy during a game at  Jerry Kersey Gym at Pueblo West.

Colorado high school basketball officials will be required to wear masks when the state's winter season begins later this month. 

That goes for all boys and girls games at the varsity, junior varsity and freshmen levels.

The requirement is causing plenty of trepidation for officials and even led to some officials opting out for the 2021 season, while others are opting out because of COVID-19 concerns for their families.

Colorado's high school basketball season is scheduled to begin the week of Jan. 25 and conclude with the state championship games March 20-21. The 14-game season will include a shortened postseason as only 24 teams will qualify for the playoffs in Class 1A-3A and 32 in classes 4A and 5A.

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Not only will officials be required to wear masks or face coverings during games, so will players.

Ron Garcia, the president of the Pueblo Basketball Officials Association, said his group will abide by what they are told.

"This (basketball) is indoors, so it's required," Garcia said. "There are a couple guys in our group who aren't going to officiate because they won't wear masks.

"It is an inconvenience, but we'll do what we can to keep the officials, players and coaches healthy. If that's wearing a mask, then we'll do it."

Frank Cortez, a basketball and football official for 25-plus years in Pueblo, said wearing a mask is part of the requirements for officiating.

"It's going to be more difficult than it was in football," Cortez said. " I would wear one simply for safety because you don't know what is coming in (from the teams).

"For myself, I'll wear one. I think we should do what is safe for everybody. I think it will be tough for players to wear one all the time as far as breathing."

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Jerry Santos, the assigner for the Pueblo Basketball study group, said as of Friday he's had 10 officials opt out for the season for various reasons.

"We've had 10 officials opt out, two of them specifically because of masks," Santos said. "Most of the other reasons are COVID-related."

Santos, a longtime basketball, baseball and softball official for high school and college competitions, said he is planning on working basketball, mask or no mask.

"Me, I'll wear the mask if that's what helps us play the games," he said. "For (high school) softball, we just had to wear a mask for the pregame and after that it was our choice. For the Final Four, masks were mandatory.

"To me, if it means getting kids out to play ball then that's what I'll do. I would prefer normalcy."

Santos indicated that the Pueblo basketball study group, which includes 62 members, should be able to handle all the high school games in districts 60 and 70 as well as around the region.

"The number of varsity games have gone down from 24 games last year to 14, so we should be OK," he said. "Unless after the first week guys say, 'I don't want to do this.' Then we could have some problems covering games."

Ross Kimbrel, an area director for basketball officials in Pueblo, said he's planning on working games this season.

"Some of the area directors up north have said that wearing masks is a huge issue and some aren't going to work because of it," said Kimbrel, who was scheduled to work the Class 2A girls championship game last March when the state tournament was cancelled. "At first I wasn't going to work, but this is what I do. If I don't do this I'd sit around all winter."

Kimbrel has purchased the Fox-40 whistle mask and has been running on a treadmill trying to get used to breathing and blowing the whistle while moving.

"I was reluctant to begin with because I didn't know how the mask thing was going to work," he said. "I have hearing aids and was worried how I was going to put it around my ears. But the mask has two straps and it seems to work fine.

"I want to officiate and if this is what I have to do to work, then so be it."

Kimbel said there are plenty of other issues that have to be worked out for the basketball season to be successful, including whether fans will be allowed in the gyms and how officials will social distance with travel, pregame and staying out of locker rooms.

Chieftain interim sports editor Jeff Letofsky can be reached by email at jletofsky@chieftain.com or on Twitter @jeffletofsky.