By Brandon Speck
Baldwyn superintendent of schools and District I executive committee president Ronnie Hill isn’t accusing the Mississippi High School Activities Association of purposely manipulating games in the state tournament, but he does say recent allegations may have given people that impression.
Hill believes steps need to be taken to reassure the public.
Four referees from at least two tournament games the last two seasons have told the Daily Journal they were told by the MHSAA to protect certain star players from foul calls.
The MHSAA has admitted sending people, including assistant director of athletics Robert Holloway, into the halftime room to speak to its officials, but says it does so to give direction – praise and correction.
MHSAA executive director Don Hinton and Holloway deny the allegations. One official took offense to the denial.
“Their comment of them not coming in there and not saying what they said, him saying it’s not true is a lie,” one referee said of Hinton. “It’s just a lie. Point blank, it’s a lie.”
Hill said it apparently is a common practice in Central and South Mississippi to give guidance at halftimes. It’s not in North Mississippi. That’s why, Hill said, he and three other District I executive committee members met with Hinton last week to discuss the matter. Two committee members from the South were also present at the meeting.
The executive committee has a regularly scheduled meeting today, where the topic, although not likely on the agenda, is expected to discussed.
“If you need to address officials and say ‘Guys, get this under control,’ do it,” Hill said. “But let’s eliminate the middle man and there’s no need to mention numbers.”
One of the middle men in question is Randy Reynolds, who doesn’t have an official title with the MHSAA. Hill said sending a third party to deliver a message is part of the problem.
Hill said mentioning specific players may be automatically causing referees to interpret the message as keeping a better eye on – protecting – individual players.
“According to the people who work at the association, that is not the intent,” Hill said. “I think, again, since we don’t go into dressing rooms (in the North) and people do go in and mention players’ names, they interpret that as intent. I think that’s the problem with it. I don’t think the association’s intent is to tamper with the game.
“I think we can eliminate the names and the numbers to where you don’t give the impression that you’re looking at a particular player.”
But the four referees who’ve spoken to the Daily Journal say there was no confusion on the message and clearly the intent is to protect star players. It’s clearly to keep stars in the game, words they say are very clear from Holloway and Reynolds.
“What’s been said, I’m not saying one person’s right and one person’s wrong and who’s not telling the truth,” Hill said. “I’m just saying that from this point forward, I think we can address what’s being said in there and correct players being identified by name and number.”
Hill didn’t go as far as saying the integrity of the MHSAA has been damaged, but it is on the line.
“That’s the perception, when people hear this and see this, that games are being tampered with,” he said.
“If talking to officials is something that has gone on for 30 years and is going to be continued, we can do that without saying the best player on the team or the number.”