The local football officials and the School District of Lee County came to an agreement Friday afternoon allowing the referees to work games this season.
“The (South Gulf Football Officials Association) has agreed to honor the contract they entered into in May,” school board member Chris Patricca told The News-Press. “Lee County Schools football games will begin next week.”
This week’s preseason games hosted by Lee public schools were canceled Wednesday as the refs were holding out for a pay raise. Patricca said it was too hard to play the games scheduled for Friday, but the Week 1 games would go on as planned on Aug. 23.
The announcement came at about 2 p.m. Friday. Earlier that day, the Florida High School Athletic Association reinstated the SGFOA at the request of the schools that the officials serve outside of Lee County school district.
Earlier this week nine schools apart from the district agreed to a new contract with the SGFOA that would pay $10 more per official. The schools are: Bishop Verot, Canterbury, Evangelical Christian, Gateway Charter, Oasis and Southwest Florida Christian in Lee County and LaBelle, Moore Haven and Port Charlotte outside of the county.
However, the officials could not work games until they were sanctioned by the FHSAA. Until Friday, the FHSAA was withholding a sanction until the officials came to terms with Lee Schools.
The reinstatement allowed the local refs to officiate games at LaBelle, Moore Haven and Port Charlotte on Friday. Two of those games involved Lee County public schools — North Fort Myers at Port Charlotte, and East Lee at Moore Haven. LaBelle hosted Lemon Bay.
The deals with the FHSAA and then Lee Schools ends a two-week saga that left players, coaches and fans hanging as the future of high school football was in the air.
The SGFOA voted on Aug. 5 not to work this season if they did not get a raise, despite signing a contract in May. Lee Schools told the refs late last week that they wouldn’t pay any more than the FHSAA maximum of $65 per official.
The FHSAA revoked the SGFOA’s sanction on Monday for reneging on its contract. Officials must belong to a sanctioned group in order to work games involving FHSAA schools.
The refs and Lee Schools administrators continued to fight over money through Thursday, causing this week’s games to be canceled.
Though the officials’ holdout is done, they will not receive any more money from the schools. However, they will receive more money thanks to a $9,000 donation from a group of local businessmen headed up by Brian Rist, founder and executive chairman of hurricane protection company Storm Smart.
The money will go toward giving the officials the $10-per-game raise they were seeking from the schools.
“This is a win-win-win situation for everyone involved,” said SGFOA president John Mantica, who was in Texas on a previously scheduled trip. “It’s a win for the players, the schools and the officials.”