The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference will officially crown its girls basketball champions today at Harrison Central High School in Cadiz.
Though five teams will take home the trophy today, the OVAC proved to be champions of promoting growth among females in sports during the week in which females in sports are formally celebrated and encouraged.
Obviously, the OVAC has long promoted female sports, but it put another step forward in promoting female involvement in different realms of prep athletics.
During Monday’s semi-final game between Harrison Central and Union Local, the OVAC assigned an all-female crew of officials for the game. Getting the assignment were Maclaine Murad, Gina Hicks and Meghan Scott.
“When I got the assignment (in the spring) for softball (with two other females) that hit me and then I had the same feeling when I saw this assignment because I knew we were about to do something big,” Hicks said. ”
Murad, who is in her fourth season as a registered official, saw becoming a referee as a way to stay involved in the game she grew up loving. The Bridgeport High School grad also played collegiately, but when she exhausted her eligibility, she wasn’t ready to bid farewell to the sport.
“I wanted to find basketball in my life again and this got me back on the court,” Murad said. “It also allows me to give back to the sport and young athletes, which has been fulfilling.”
Hicks, who is a Buckeye Local High School graduate, is in her third season as a basketball official. She also umpires softball and made history there, too. She was part of a crew for the OVAC Tournament last spring that had three females working among the four-person crew.
“I saw the posting for the (training) class in the newspaper and thought it would be a great way to get back into the game and hopefully make an impact on a kid’s life,” Hicks said. “Every day I am working to improve. Whether it’s (studying) the rule book, talking to other officials about how to get better or watching film. I just want to work on it.”
In her fourth season, Scott, who is an Edison High School graduate, took maybe the most unfamiliar path to becoming a registered OHSAA official. She was living in Columbus and was going to take a training course to be a beach volleyball official. However, she ended up in a basketball class and hasn’t looked back since.
“I sat there (in the class), watched everything, got put on the court and fell in love with it right away,” Scott said. “The ability to give back and be a part of the sport is something that I’ve really enjoyed.”
OHSAA DIrector of Communications Tim Stried knew of at least one game in the Columbus area that had utilized three female officials. When the OVAC formally announced the assignment via its social media, last Saturday, it drew 180 likes and 40 retweets.
Then, on Monday, when the OVAC tweeted a picture of the crew, Murad, Hicks and Scott went even more viral, attracting 300 likes and 61 retweets.
On top of the media coverage — both through mainstream and social — the crew was presented a card at the game as a tribute to their milestone.
“Being a part of this game was awesome,” Scott said. “We had talked about females reaching for their goals and this is something that we’ve all been striving to do.”
Murad, who has worked several varsity games thus far this winter, never imagined the impact of having three females work a varsity game together might cause.
“It’s been very exciting to have so many comments and compliments for me personally, but I also think it’s been great for the OVAC and young female athletes,” Murad said. “Being on this crew was important and having the players on the court look up to us and know they can still have basketball in their lives after they’re done playing is rewarding.”
Hicks, a multi-sport athlete in her prep days, took notice some 15 years ago about who was officiating the games in which she played.
“When I was playing, there were basically no female officials or umpires,” Hicks said. “So, for three of us to be able to do work a varsity game on the same crew is something I am really proud of. I am proud of Maclaine and Meghan for being here, too. I just hope girls look up to us and want to be like us some day.”
The OVAC has been fortunate to see growth among females across many of its sports, including basketball, softball, track and field, swimming. Still, though, conference officials, including Butch Minkemeyer, who assigns the officials for girls basketball, would like to see more.
Rather than just talking about it and hoping for more females to simply sign up to become officials, the OVAC is doing something about it.
“The OVAC, in the past few seasons, has developed a training program designed to improve officiating in the conference,” Minkemeyer said. “These three officials (Murad, Hicks and Scott) have gone all in and their efforts are being rewarded. We’re determined to continue this program to improve all officials.”
All told, there are eight female officials at the disposal of Minkemeyer and OVAC Basketball Commissioner Ron White, who schedules the officials for the boys games.
“This program would not have a chance of succeeding without the help of veteran officials such as Tom Wilson, Bryan Gaus and Bob Narrish to name a few,” Minkemeyer continued.
All three females pointed to several “veteran” officials who have truly taken them under their wings to help them grow as officials.
In the aforementioned email exchange with Stried at the OHSAA, he pointed out that he was unaware of there ever being a varsity boys basketball game with an all-female crew.
With the growth in the number of female officials, their commitment to it and the OVAC’s desire to grow the number, it sounds like the OVAC is well on its way to being a trendsetter in that regard, too.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE and Linsly have agreed to play a football game in Week 5 this season at Red Devil Stadium. The Red Devils and Cadets played this past season after both schools lost games due to COVID-19 issues with their opponents.
SPEAKING OF football schedules, Monroe Central and Edison are playing each other in a season opener.
BUCKEYE LOCAL graduate Chet Pobolish, who was the head football coach at Division II Southwest Oklahoma State University, has been hired as offensive coordinator at Reinhardt, which is an NAIA School in Georgia
BLAKE HORVATH, a quarterback at Hilliard Darby in suburban Columbus, signed a National Letter of Intent with the Naval Academy last Wednesday. Horvath, who set four program records at Darby, rushed for 1,712 yards and 28 touchdowns. Blake’s parents are Ohio Valley natives. His father, Alan, is a 1991 St. John Central grad; and his mother, Laura (Sommerville) is a 1990 Edison South graduate.
Staskey can be reached via email at [email protected] or at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth