Officiating can be controversial in sports and that is especially true in local flag football.
With a volunteer crew dealing with belligerent personalities, controversy is bound to happen. In spite of a rocky season for the current referee crew, Cayman Islands Flag Football Association President Jermaine Sharpe states they are doing an admirable job.
“There is no dedicated core of referees and they ref to the best of their ability,” Sharpe said. “All six teams have 20 plus guys so that’s over 120 personalities they’re dealing with.
“We’re trying to bring down guys for referee clinics to build a core. We’ve got a group of people long-term and as a board member, I’m very happy with what they’ve done.”
The latest drama took place at the Ed Bush field in West Bay last Saturday. Digicel Summer League leaders the dms West Bay Hellcats were trailing the Cayman Power Sports and Marine Hurricanes 12-7 with seconds left in the contest. The match would end in a 6-0 forfeit in favour of the Hellcats after a physical dispute erupted over where Hellcat rookie Rashaun ‘Young Buck’ Rivers was tackled in relation to the goal line. The result was two Hurricane players were ejected from the contest.
The Hurricanes were especially irked at head referees Sean Glidden and Rob Duty. The duo were assisted by a crew of former and current players including Cassandra Bodden, Dan Hiryok, Shawn Pitterson and Rex Whittaker.
For association vice president Brad Conolly, the referees are in a tough position.
“The refs I won’t say necessarily improved,” Conolly said. “We put a lot on them with new rules. They’re learning along with the players. It’s hard to judge. One of the main rules that is bothering people is the spotting of the ball rule. It deals with spotting the football where the flag is and a lot of players are complaining about it.
“It’s very difficult to get it right. They’re doing the best they can do. The board is pleased with what they’re doing. So many rules changed that everyone has to respect that it won’t be perfect.”
The Hellcats-Hurricanes contest is the second match this season that has been called off due to player ejections. The other game also saw controversy in the dying seconds, with the two sides reportedly coming to blows.
Almost every season, there are matches that get called off due to unsportsmanlike conduct either between teams or directed at match officials. Glidden, Duty and company are in their second year donning the zebra kits, following years of service from Andreas ‘Zulu’ Kettner and Arthur Screaton.
As previously mentioned, the current refs have had to deal with numerous rule changes this season. The major ones are the introduction of field goals, a permanent game clock and downfield blocking.
Sharpe states the regulations are in place to create better national team performances.
“The rules are in place because in international tournaments, the other teams use them. We got to adapt so we can compete and we got to get people comfortable with those rules.
“The season is working out well. It’s as good as expected. We’ve had one or two hiccups along the way but we’ve moved past them. There are some surprises in the season this year.”
Sharpe has a point as the league has enjoyed good parity. While Renford Barnes and the Hellcats are now 9-1 atop the standings, five sides are jostling for three postseason berths.
The Club House Bulldogs, behind Chris Spigner, are second at 7-3 while Barrett Edri’s Maples Packers and Chris Lucas’ Burger King Panthers have the last two playoff spots at 5-4. Kevin Solomon and the 4-6 Cox Colts and Neville Morgan’s 3-6 Hurricanes are within striking distance with Brandon Ure’s 0-9 PWC Renegades playing spoiler.
Conolly states that competition should command attention going forward.
“I’m pleased with the new rules. Over the last few weeks we’ve had the scoreboard, which adds another dimension for the fans and the games. I don’t expect the rules will see many changes next year.
“This season, all of the teams are competitive and it’s hard to predict who will dominate. The Colts are the only team that everyone expected to do well and has not done well.”