The Coal Bucket Game is a staple of East Central Illinois high school football.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm and Westville will meet in Week 9 of the 2019 campaign to vie for a major victory as the Vermilion County rivals will play for the 99th time, with this year marking the 57th year a trophy is handed out.
It’s hard to imagine this showcase in any other format than occurring underneath the Friday night lights. Regardless, things will be different this time around.
Westville athletic director Mike Waters told The News-Gazette that the Coal Bucket game instead will be competed for on a Saturday afternoon this year, with the matchup slated for Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. on the Tigers’ home field.
The reason? An oft-discussed shortage of IHSA officials, specifically for football games.
“We lost a crew (to retirement), and I found that out in February,” said Waters, who is entering his fifth year at the head of Westville sports.
What followed was Waters “literally contact(ing) every crew chief and football crew in the state of Illinois.”
He called the IHSA. Folks there suggested he ring up some officials associations in Indiana, to see if anyone was registered to work in Illinois.
No dice. So, both Westville and Georgetown-Ridge Farm representatives agreed the game had to be shifted to Saturday, when they could book an officiating team – which they were able to do.
“This is just the beginning,” Waters said. “(Paxton-Buckley-Loda AD) Brock Niebuhr and I coordinate between the (Sangamon Valley Conference and Vermilion Valley Conference) crossover games. ... For fall 2020, we’ve still got games that aren’t covered on Friday night.”
Waters said he’s noticed regular local officiating crews getting older and older, without much youth being injected into that scene.
It has him concerned that more and more schools will face the problem Westville and Georgetown-Ridge Farm did.
“I’m retiring in three years, and I’m glad,” Waters said. “This is going to get to a crisis point, and not just in Illinois. It’s everywhere.”
The Inter-Athletic Council of Officials is trying to combat this issue.
The organization is hosting a free six-week referee training course, with two-hour sessions convening every Tuesday from this week through Aug. 13. Also included are two on-field sessions, slated for July 27 and Aug. 3.
Course locations are Bremen High, Plainfield Central High, Lisle Park District, Elmwood Park High, Chicago’s Haas Park, Libertyville High, Kishwaukee College and Palatine’s Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.
Those interested can register at iaco-official.org.