The game flashing across the TV screen was a bit of an afterthought as our conversation centered on the day’s activities. Suddenly, Jean pointed out, “That’s Dwight refereeing this game.”
The game was the PIAA Girl’s 3A state championship game between Dunmore and River Valley from Hershey’s Giant Center. That Dwight was longtime friend and former coaching sidekick Dwight Woodley who was achieving a Pennsylvania basketball official’s dream of calling a state championship game.
For Woodley, whose day job is Director of Innovating Learning & Technology for the South Williamsport Area School District, the call to Hershey was the topper to his 25th year wearing the striped shirt.
“It surprises me when I look back, but this is my 25th year as a basketball official. So getting to referee in this year’s state championship was a very nice anniversary present,” Woodley confessed.
“After I finished coaching the game, I decided it would be fun to experience the other side of the game. While I was coaching, I did some officiating at the elementary level. I decided I wanted to understand the game better, and the camaraderie you develop with the other officials provides a team environment like coaching. I was inactive for a few years while I finished coaching, and then I had changing job responsibilities, so becoming a referee kept me involved with the game. That is what I really like about it now.”
For officials getting the opportunity to be selected for a PIAA state championship game involves several factors. Although, primarily due to the declining number of officials, game evaluations of officials’ work aren’t done as often as they were several years ago; but those evaluations are a key to selection. Through the years, officials work their way up from local league games to districts to the sectional level. As they gain that experience, the evaluations of how they performed are carefully considered.
“Last year, I was fortunate to call a western final game at Bald-Eagle Area between Lansdale Catholic, who won the 4A title this year after being runner-up last year, and Villa Maria, who is a perennial state power. We were evaluated at that game, and I think that was a big help to my selection this year,” Woodley explained. “Other requirements include officiating in a district-level championship or semi-final game and attending the PIAA annual convention, which is held each August.”
As big an honor as a state championship is, Woodley and his crew mates (Colleen Sullivan – Towanda and Gary Dedario – Sunbury) didn’t get the summons to Hershey until two days before the game. For Sullivan, it was her second state championship (the other was in 2018). It was the first trip to the state’s big dance for Woodley and Dedario.
“I didn’t receive notification that I would be officiating in the state championships until Tuesday morning, two days before the 3A championship game, Woodley added. “This is a pretty standard PIAA notification timetable.
“We had the 6:00 p.m. game between Dunmore and River Valley. I worked a half-day in the morning and left for Hershey around noon. I got there in time to watch the 2:00 p.m. game. But honestly, it is the waiting around that gets to you. We had to be dressed at 5:00 p.m. and then had a meeting with PIAA officials. We went over procedures, during which sportsmanship was heavily stressed. Then, the three of us went over routine pre-game procedures and just awaited the game start. Once the game starts, it’s just another game.
“On paper and looking at records, I anticipated this could be one of the better games in the tournament. (Dunmore won the 3A crown 42-30). But this being for the state championship and being played in a bigger arena, you never know how high school kids are going to react. Having coached the game, I understand there can be a frustration level, particularly with coaches. I try to have a little more leeway with the coaches, and sometimes that hurts me too. But all-in-all, I thought this game went pretty smooth, although you are always going to hear things from fans that disagree with a call you made.”
Webb Weekly congratulates Dwight Woodley and his District IV mates for a well-deserved honor and a job well done!
While the three-day tournament crowned an all-too-many 12 state champions, game attendance is very disappointing. The average attendance for most of the twelve championship games played was under 2,000 fans. A key contributing factor is that private and charter schools do not have a larger following than public schools. This year, of the 24 competing teams at the six levels of boys’ and girls’ games, nine of the state titles were won by either Catholic or Charter school teams. The game Woodley’s crew called between Dunmore and River Valley was the only game that featured two public school teams.
While disgruntlement continues to abound, the advantages gained by non-public schools undeterred by established boundaries nor recruitment restrictions give these schools an advantage that they readily use. In claiming nine state championships, the margin of victory by the non-public school winners was 65-49.
Not privy to what may go on behind closed doors, but publicly the PIAA is exhibiting little concern over this growing competitive unbalance of its state championships outcomes witnessed by an increasingly embarrassing array of empty seats.