Refs punished for pink whistles take state association to court

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by CHRIS DANIELS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ChrisDaniels5

KING5.com

Posted on June 2, 2011 at 2:16 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 2 at 6:26 PM

SEATTLE -- The “Pink Whistle” officials are throwing the flag at the organizations which govern state high school sports.

KING 5 News has learned the Pacific Northwest Football Officials Association filed suit in King County Superior Court against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and the Washington Officials Association (WOA). It asks a judge to overturn punishment the WOA handed down to the organization, after the officials used pink whistles in a game last October.

The PNFOA was using the whistles as part of a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and had donated their game checks to the cause. The group says the effort raised $4,734.

“We thought it was important to raise funds for Komen for the Cure, and that’s we wore the pink whistles,” says referee Gavin Anderson.

“There was no rule we couldn’t use a pink whistle,” says PNFOA President, and fellow referee, Jeff Mattson.

However, the WOA said the group violated uniform code, and a direct order given to them by the WOA commissioner Todd Stordahl. In May, the WOA issued a two-year probation for the referees, and docked them several game assignments for the 2011 and 2012 football playoffs. The WOA Board wrote in a newsletter that the referees showed a “blatant disregard of WOA policy” and “although some may not like the position taken by the WOA there has to be a line drawn and the WOA feels comfortable with the rationales used to reach this decision.”

The suit also alleges the PNFOA was punished for speaking to the media, and posting on blogs, about the controversy. The suit alleges the “content based restraint on speech and expressive conduct” is unconstitutional. It not only seeks to have the punishment rescinded, but also allow the PNFOA to break off as a separate organization with full authority to referee games. The PNFOA says the WIAA has a monopoly over interscholastic competition, and that WOA Membership is required to officiate at WIAA games.

“That is the ultimate goal, to break from the WOA and to allow the PNFOA to contract directly with the WIAA and the schools,” said PNFOA attorney Tyler Firkins.

“We’re setting a good example, taking a leadership role, what we think is right for all officials in the state of Washington,” adds Mattson.

“We wore pink whistles,” says Anderson, “It’s not that big a deal.”

A WIAA spokesperson said Executive Director Mike Colbrese was unavailable for comment.  Stordahl was out of the office, and did not return our multiple calls for reaction.

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