Howard tightens thunder, lightning policy; Jurisdiction receives complaints about games that were not stopped


Howard County will attempt to crack down on game officials who fail to stop games at the first sound of thunder or first flash of lightning.

"I've called all my assigners and reiterated our policy. We have a shortage of officials, but will ask that those who violate our policy not be assigned to Howard County," Howard County Coordinator of Athletics Don Disney said after receiving several complaints about games played last Thursday that should have been stopped but weren't.

Disney will also deliver one coach's request for a mandatory statewide rule to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Such a rule would eliminate any confusion about when games should be stopped.

Currently, MPSSAA rules cover only playoff games. Each jurisdiction has its own rules for other games. Howard County mandates that games must stop at the first sound of thunder and not resume until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

The Glenelg-at-Westminster girls soccer game last Thursday is an example of the confusion that can occur because of inconsistent rules.

Officials failed to stop the game at the first clap of thunder, despite Glenelg coach Mike Williams' request for stoppage.

Williams then told his team to leave the field, and as the players began leaving, Westminster scored a tying goal and later won the game, 2-1.

Carroll County's rule covers only lightning, not thunder.

"Their policy must be 30 years old," Disney said.

Williams said: "We all know where there's thunder, there's lightning. The ref said he makes the call. It's a no-brainer between having a kid hit by lightning or giving up a goal and taking a loss. The kids' safety is No. 1. And as an athletic director, I have to set an example."

Disney said there were also complaints that the Pallotti-at-Atholton girls soccer game last Thursday, as well as the Hammond-at-Wilde Lake and the Oakland Mills-at-Glenelg football games, were not stopped promptly.

Disney said he stopped the Howard-at-Mount Hebron football game himself last Thursday after the third clap of thunder. "It was the first time I jumped a fence and went on the field to stop a game," he said.

Disney praised officials at Long Reach for stopping its football game last Thursday promptly and removing fans from the metal stands. "Long Reach was a model of compliance," Disney said.

Al Ferraro, the assigning commissioner for the Washington District Football Officials Association, which covers the District of Columbia, Montgomery, Howard, Prince George's, Calvert, St. Mary's and Queen Anne's counties, said all of his jurisdictions have the same policy regarding thunder and lightning.

"I give a two-page letter to every official. They are told that if you hear it or see it, or someone tells you they heard it or saw it, stop the game. Officials, coaches, athletic directors, principals are all responsible. If any of them hears it or sees it, they should step on the field and say, 'I just heard it,' and stop the game," Ferraro said.

"We've been pretty good about it. But some [officials] say it will just take another minute to complete the game. That's wrong. Lightning doesn't know where it will strike. One more minute may be too long."

"If a coach says he's not going to play, the game is stopped. Period. It's out of the officials' hands," Ferraro said.

He has not disciplined any officials for failing to stop games because of thunder or lightning. "Last week was the first time that anyone complained," Ferraro said.

Disney said that Howard County is equipping every high school with $250 lightning detectors.

Carroll County Supervisor of Athletics Bruce Cowan said he received no complaints aside from those about the Glenelg-Westminster game.

"It was a miscommunication between officials and coaches and what constitutes the stopping of a game," Cowan said. "One coach heard thunder and felt the game should be stopped. Our officials in Carroll operate under the conditions that seeing lightning causes stoppage of a game."

Bob Wade, supervisor of athletics for Baltimore City, and Ron Belinko, coordinator of athletics for Baltimore County, said they received no complaints about games stopped last Thursday.

"We have a strict lightning policy that we reinforce at every one of our sports meetings [with coaches]," said Belinko. "The only complaints we ever get are that we stopped a game too quickly."

Anne Arundel County Supervisor of Athletics Marlene Kelly was unavailable for comment.

Sun staff writers Katherine Dunn and Glenn P. Graham contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/16/99

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