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BEYOND THE SIDELINE: A continuing fall feature looking at the stories that make Tulsa-area high school football unique
Guerin Emig: Civil action: If we treat high school football officials better, they might keep working games

Official Dusten Hobson makes his way to the football field with Rejoice Christian before their game against Haskell on Sept. 20. “Right now we are at 992 officials,” reports Grant Gower, director of officials for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. “That’s down from about 1,100 last year.” MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Robert Breedlove, a 53-year high school football official, tells a sobering story.

“A couple years ago, a friend of mine was working a sub-varsity game,” Breedlove begins. “One of his first-year guys was with him, since you try to work veterans with less-experienced officials to help teach them. Well, this guy comes to my friend at halftime. I guess they’d had a rough first half.”

A pitiful fact about football and most youth sports: the younger the kids playing, the worse-behaved the adults watching. The adults direct their tantrums at the kids and at each other, but unleash their most juvenile outbursts at officials.

“The guy takes off his officiating hat. He takes off his whistle. He takes his flag out of his pocket,” Breedlove continues, “and he says, ‘Here. You can have these. I didn’t sign up for this.’ And the guy leaves the game.

“This gives you a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on in the world of officiating high school football. Whether it’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Tallahassee, Florida, or Bozeman, Montana, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s the same. That’s what’s going on.”

Referees are fleeing the profession.

A Google search reveals crises in Alabama and Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri, California and Florida. The National Federation of State High School Associations recognizes the problem on its website, where it asks would-be officials to enlist and fans to chill so that referee recruits might stick around.

There is a crisis in Texas. According to the Dallas Morning News, 80% of officials who quit the profession as recently as 2017 told the Texas Association of Sports Officials it was due to abusive behavior at games.

There is a crisis in Oklahoma.

“Right now we are at 992 officials,” reports Grant Gower, director of officials for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. “That’s down from about 1,100 last year.”

There is a crisis around the Tulsa metro.

Cory Young 

Referee Erik Herring works the Holland Hall-Metro Christian football game at on Sept. 20. CORY YOUNG/for the Tulsa World

“What happens is we get 30 rookies, 30 first-time officials to sign up and come to the meetings,” says Ethan Rolen, president of the Greater Tulsa Officials Association. “They’ll be certified by the OSSAA. They’ll do everything they need to do to work games. But from those 30, when it comes to year two, we might have 10 return.”

The trickle of recruits doesn’t keep up with the outflow of resignations or retirements, and so organizations like Rolen’s scramble to staff games.

They fast-track recruits to the varsity level, when ordinarily the rookies would get five years of sub-varsity duty first. They ask officials to work varsity games Thursday and Friday, grade and middle school games Saturday, then junior varsity games Monday.

This keeps games officiated, but at the cost of less-experienced, more-taxed crews that must keep up with faster-paced games. It is exhaustive work, and you don’t get rich doing it. Rolen reports the standard rate negotiated between the GTOA and metro schools and districts is $95 per official per game.

“You have to pretty much absolutely love it or you’re just not going to do it,” Breedlove says.

And there’s the problem: It’s difficult to love it when you’re catching hell for it as a rookie at those grade school games.

“I will tell you at the varsity level on Friday night, it is very rare to have issues,” Rolen says. “Coaches are good. They understand the line and they know not to cross it. The younger games are where the officials take the most abuse.”

“About eight years ago, we had a guy named Dennis Hartney at the GTOA,” Breedlove says. “He took it upon himself to contact all 24 or 25 people that did not return for their sophomore year and asked why they did not come back. The answers were as broad as humankind is. Their jobs, their health, their spouses.

“But the number one reason they did not return to officiating for their second year was pee-wee football.”

Remember that repulsive 2017 video showing two Union coaches brawling at a third-grade game? Would an environment that toxic be worth $95 to a 19-year-old college kid who signed up to make a little extra money? Or to a 23-year-old former small college player who just wanted to stay invested in the game?

Brett Rojo 

Referee Harold Alspaugh signals during a game between Edison and Claremore at Lantow Field in Claremore on Sept. 20. BRETT ROJO/For the Tulsa World

“Especially at the third-, fourth-, fifth-grade level, these are volunteer coaches. They don’t know the rules like a high school coach,” Rolen said. “So it’s a little different dealing with grade-school coaches. And grade-school parents are right there on top of you. There’s no fear for them coming down to the field and yelling at you.”

“They used to call them helicopter parents. Bulldozer parents might be more appropriate,” Breedlove says. “They bulldoze every obstacle, they think, to their child’s well-being. They’re out there to run the show, so to speak.”

Maybe they would act differently if there was no show to begin with.

Joseph Rushmore 

Dr. Robert Breedlove makes a call during the Skiatook-Glenpool football game in 2018. JOSEPH RUSHMORE/for the Tulsa World

Again, the OSSAA and GTOA are getting games officiated. They are having to be creative, but they are avoiding cancellations due to the referee shortage.

They are investing in outreach, going into schools to promote the benefits of the profession, tapping into less traditional demographics like older teens and women. They are establishing mentor programs where veterans work with rookies at the troublesome grade school games.

As to pay, Gower said the OSSAA has a system whereby officials who work OSSAA-sanctioned playoff games receive wage increases rotated annually by sport.

All of this sounds encouraging.

Breedlove’s pitch on behalf of the profession sounds engrossing.

“In 1967 at age 20, when I was a junior at Oklahoma State, I got into it,” he says. “I have done it all over the United States, Alabama, Tennessee, California. I moved back to Stillwater in ’81. For 15 years I did Friday night lights and then did the old Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference, and even the JV level in the old Big 8 Conference.

“It’s all about the game. And then the camaraderie, too. Being with your crew Friday night, those other four guys, is just wonderful. It’s the ultimate bonding experience because you don’t have any other buddies out there.”

It would be wonderful if a new generation discovered what Breedlove was talking about, if Rolen and Gower could count on that generation replacing the one that is disappearing, and could count on their officiating crises to end.

Our incivility must end first, though.

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Official Daryl Wilson watches as Rejoice Christian plays Haskell in football Sept. 20. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

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Tulsa saw fewer homicides and burglaries in 2018, but aggravated assaults and larcenies up, according to latest FBI data

Tulsa’s crime statistics are a mixed bag in 2018, with several categories falling but others rising, according to an analysis of city’s latest crime numbers.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released its Uniform Crime Reports detailing national and local data on crime. Although the Tulsa metro area, which includes Creek, Okmulgee, Osage, Pawnee, Rogers, Tulsa, and Wagoner counties, saw its violent crime rate largely stay the same, multiple categories including homicide, robbery and burglary fell from 2017.

Of note is that Tulsa saw 774 fewer burglaries, a drop of about 14%. Sgt. Tim Means, who heads Tulsa Police Department’s burglary unit, said a number of factors could go into that drop, from the economy to addiction.

“It could be that more people are working so they’re not out stealing,” Means said. “It could be better health services for people that have an addiction problem. ... It could be people are not doing it as much because of the fact more and more people are getting caught thanks to cameras, cellphones and all that stuff that’s available nowadays.

“There’s some people who would be habitual offenders and they do it once or twice, but then end up getting caught and never do it again.”

Based on Tulsa area’s population, the burglary rate per 100,000 people is 727.8, down from 840.5 in 2017. But Tulsa’s rate is similar to the national average in 2008 and well above the 2018 rate of 376.

Tulsa didn’t fall in every category, logging 235 more aggravated assaults nearly 800 more larcenies.

Numbers for property crimes and rape remained largely unchanged.

But the city did see 201 fewer car thefts. Sgt. Glenn Moore, head of the department’s auto theft unit, said there’s more to it than great police work.

Not only has the department arrested a few serial car thieves, but the market also plays a role.

“I can’t tell you what the price of steel is right now, but that typically has a pretty good bearing on the number of thefts,” Moore said. “A lot of the older vehicle thefts, what they do is steal them and go crush ‘em. Based on the weight of the vehicle, they get a certain price.

“When the price of steel goes up, they can make more money and they’ll take older vehicles up there because if a vehicle is older than 10 years, it doesn’t have to have a title to be sold, just a bill of sale. Some of those crushers as we call them don’t ask a whole lot of questions.”

Although steel prices began 2018 on a high mark and rose significantly when the United States issued tariffs that March, prices started falling midway through the year, according to a report from The Fabricator, a metals industry publication.

Tulsa had 10 fewer homicides in 2018, but it’s rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter puts the city in interesting company.

With 7.9 non-negligent homicides per 100,000 people, Tulsa sits just above the Las Vegas, Dayton, Ohio, and Wichita, Kansas metro areas. The Detroit, Chicago and Jacksonville, Florida, metro areas had an 8.0 rate in 2018.

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Oklahoma Real ID compliance deadline extended to September 2020

Oklahoma has received another extension to comply with Real ID, meaning the federal government will continue to recognize the state’s driver’s licenses and ID cards.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety announced Thursday the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted the state’s request to extend the Oct. 10 deadline for the state’s compliance with the Real ID Act until September 2020.

The federal government will continue to recognize Oklahoma driver’s licenses and ID cards for flying on commercial airlines or accessing federal facilities until Sept. 18, according to the news release.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said DPS is working quickly to take the necessary steps, such as training employees and updating systems, to implement Real ID.

“This will be the final extension needed for our state to become fully compliant with federal law, as Oklahoma is set to begin issuing the updated IDs later next year,” Stitt said in the release. “We are prioritizing this project in order to ensure our citizens can continue to use their Oklahoma licenses to travel seamlessly across the U.S. and enter federal facilities.”

The act, passed in 2005, was intended to make forging driver’s licenses more difficult, but Oklahoma legislators passed a bill in 2007 preventing the state from meeting the act’s provisions.

State officials began working to build a compliant system in 2017 under former Gov. Mary Fallin, and on Thursday, Oklahoma was one of five U.S. states and territories still not compliant, according to Homeland Security.

National compliance with the act is mandated by Oct. 1, 2020.

Sarah Stewart, a spokeswoman for DPS, said the agency plans to begin issuing Real ID documents from select locations, likely larger metro areas such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa, on April 30, 2020, and Real ID licenses and cards will be available statewide by Aug. 31, 2020.

Stewart emphasized that Oklahomans will not be required to have a Real ID to travel as long as they have another acceptable form of identification, such as a passport or military ID.

Public Safety Commissioner John Scully said implementing the Real ID Act is the “No. 1 priority” of his agency.

“We know Oklahomans are anxious for our state to become REAL ID compliant,” Scully said in the release, adding that DPS will release more information on obtaining Real IDs “in the near future” and officials intend to make the process “as easy as possible.”

For more information, visit realid.ok.gov or dhs.gov/real-id.

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State's two largest universities see significant increase in sexual violence reports

Reports of sexual violence received by the state’s two largest public universities increased by nearly double from 2016 to 2018, according to crime statistics released this week.

The University of Oklahoma’s annual Sooner Safety and Fire Report for 2019 states that the university received 17 reports of rape on campus property last year, compared to 10 in 2017 and nine in 2016. Sixteen of the on-campus reports made last year were about incidents within campus housing. Two other rapes were reported on a noncampus property, such as fraternity and sorority houses, and six were reported on public property adjacent to school property.

At Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus, reports of rape rose to 25 in 2018 — nearly double the 13 reported in 2017, according to OSU’s Safety Matters Annual Security Report. Of those, 17 were about allegations in on-campus housing. OSU-Stillwater had seven rape reports in 2016.

The University of Tulsa saw 11 reports of rape in 2018, its lowest number since at least 2016 and a drop from 18 reports in 2017.

Oral Roberts University reported receiving zero rape reports in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Morgan Dewey, communications director for advocacy organization End Rape on Campus, said the increase in reported incidents at places such as OU and OSU has been common in the wake of survivor-friendly reforms to Title IX — a federal anti-discrimination law — made toward the end of former President Barack Obama’s administration. However, she said the rate of reports is proof that sexual violence is still “an epidemic” facing college students.

“One in five women will be sexually assaulted in college,” Dewey said. “We know that harm is happening on campuses. Hopefully, students and survivors using these systems and filing these reports means they felt safe and comfortable” enough to do so.

Meanwhile, officials at OU and OSU said the data are indicative of their institutions’ commitments to promote accurate reporting of sex offenses.

“The university invests significant personnel and resources to keep the campus one of the safest in the region and to go beyond federal regulations and laws,” OSU Communications Director Monica Roberts said. “We invest heavily in sexual assault awareness and prevention programs, and our students know we take this matter very seriously, which contributes to an increase in reporting.”

Similarly, OU Communications Director Kesha Keith said OU improved educational efforts and worked to streamline communication between the school’s Title IX office and the OU Police Department in order to increase the likelihood of accurate reporting. She said OU’s Gender + Equality Center offers students required sexual misconduct prevention training, as well as advocacy services and education on preventing gender-based violence.

Roberts said OSU recently received a $549,000 grant from the Office on Violence Against Women to help prevent gender-based violence and bolster support for survivors.

Institutions receiving public funds are required to release annual reports in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The statistics on crimes take into account information received by campus law enforcement, campus security authorities and local law enforcement, as well as groups such as residential life and offices of student affairs.

Dewey said the “Dear Colleague” letter published in 2011 included helpful guidelines for schools from then-Vice President Joe Biden regarding legal requirements related to reports of sexual violence and the use of Title IX. Students can be found responsible for violations of Title IX during internal disciplinary proceedings related to sexual violence allegations.

“Since they changed the way and improved the way schools were complying with Title IX, there was an increase in reports because schools began supporting survivors more,” Dewey said of the resulting nationwide upward trend in reports. “Schools were making it more transparent on how they would work with students in the Title IX process.”

She said she is concerned about the possible impact of proposed Title IX amendments from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as they would reduce the degree of oversight from that agency. Dewey said the amendments, if put into effect, could lead to a reduction in reports in future years.

Dewey said it is important for schools — regardless of the potential of negative actions of the federal government — to continue to provide a wide variety of options for students, from community healing groups to agencies that can take disciplinary or legal action.

“It’s really not difficult as long as schools are intentional about realizing the reality of these survivors’ lives,” Dewey said.

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