More than a dozen black high school referees plan to file a federal discrimination lawsuit over the way refs are selected to officiate at Nebraska's state basketball tournaments.
Chanell Hickey, one of several black referees who raised the issue two years ago, said little has changed since then.
“There's not been any progress at all,” said Hickey, a 12-year veteran ref who has not been chosen to work a state tournament. “The whole integrity of the selection process is corrupt and flawed.”
Hickey and others plan a press conference today to announce plans for their lawsuit against the Nebraska School Activities Association. The tournament for boys high school teams begins Thursday; the girls games were held last weekend.
NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green said she was surprised to learn of the lawsuit plans. She said the NSAA had taken the concerns of black refs seriously, meeting repeatedly with Hickey and forming a committee to look at the issue.
Since then, she said, the number of African-Americans — and other minority referees — selected has increased, and the NSAA continues to work on expanding the pool of eligible minority officials.
“The NSAA respects his perspective, but there's just not any validity to the discriminatory question he's asking about our organization,” Blanford-Green said. “We feel very positive about the direction of the NSAA. I have seen the results.”
In 2011, just two black refs were selected among the 72 chosen to officiate at the boys state tournament. None were assigned to the girls games.
In both 2012 and 2013, there have been six black refs — three for girls games and three for boys.
Blanford-Green said the numbers are even larger if you count other minorities, not just blacks. And she said the NSAA hopes to see even more gains in the future.
Hickey said those numbers remain too low, considering that 32 black refs were eligible to be selected this year. He said blacks are being passed over partly because of racial bias and partly because the selection system favors refs with “good old boy” connections.
In addition, he said, the NSAA's policy of geographic balance in choosing officials means that a lot of white refs are selected from areas with no eligible minority refs. That leaves fewer slots for refs from places like Omaha, which has more black officials.
Hickey said some of the black refs who were not selected were in better shape and more qualified than some of the white refs chosen to work the tournament.
“It's just not fair,” he said. “The state tournament is supposed to be your best.”
Blanford-Green said the NSAA doesn't mind having Hickey and others raise questions about the process, saying the critics have helped the organization “self-reflect.” But she said she believes that the selection system is equitable.
For example, she said, geographic balance is a valid approach to choosing referees because teams also are selected that way.
Blanford-Green, who is black, said she would not permit the NSAA to discriminate against minorities or other groups.
“I'd be the first one to call foul,” she said.
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