Zinni retires as OVAC grid commissioner

One of the longest tenured members of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference’s Executive Board has decided to retire.

Don Zinni – the football commissioner for the past 17 years – informed Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak at Wednesday night’s meeting that he was stepping away from his position.

“It’s just time for retirement,” Zinni said. “I am saying retiring and not resigning because I think there comes a point in time that you have to know when the time is to leave a position, and I think I’ve reached that point.”

Zinni, who will turn 76 years old in less than two weeks, has told Rataiczak that he’d be willing to help with the transition process when the new commissioner is named.

“I am saying retiring because if the new commissioner and board prefers, I’d be willing to offer my services to go and evaluate officials, to help with future scheduling and if the new comissioner may have any questions, I can offer some suggestions,” Zinni said.

Retirement had been something Zinni, who was hired by Sam Mumley, had been thinking about for the past year or so. He actually encouraged the Executive Board to hire Dave Clutter as an assistant commissioner.

“I told the board that someone has to know what I’m doing,” Zinni said. “I’ve had one heart attack, I’m currently taking treatments for cancer because I didn’t want to leave someone not knowing what the situation is.”

Zinni is unsure of the OVAC’s timetable to hire his replacement, but he believes Clutter is interested in ascending to the position. However, the OVAC will go through the formal process of hiring Zinni’s replacement.

“I’ve been trying to teach Dave what I’m doing, but that’s not to say that he’ll automatically be moved up,” Zinni said. “That’s up to the Executive Board, but I think Dave would be a capable person.

Many of the schools have already submitted their football schedules for 2013 even though some don’t have a complete 10 games yet. Normally, Zinni begins working on the assignments in late January and has those to the schools by April, so the schools have time to get the contracts out to the officials.

As football comissioner, Zinni was responsible for assigning officials for all OVAC football games, involving the 48 schools that sponsor the sport. When the position was created it was “commissioner of the officials.”

It’s developed into more than that, however.

“It’s basically a 12-month a year job,” Zinni said.

Since Zinni has been in his position, many changes have taken place, but the general public wouldn’t notice most of them.

The biggest changes that Zinni’s had to deal with is the OVAC’s expansion. During his time, it’s gone into the Zanesville area and recently expanded to Parkersburg and Morgantown.

Thus, he had to mesh officiating crews from as many as eight areas at times to make sure all of the games were covered.

He also oversaw a policy change that said all 19 crews of officials had to receive one game a week before a crew could receive a second game. He also re-established the assignment of games by the commissioner because prior to that, a committee of officials would make and distribute the assignments.

During the course of the season, Zinni was a regular at area football fields. He admits he watched the officials more than he watched the games. He used those decisions to formulate his own rating system and implemented that to determine what and how many games those respective crews received the next season.

Zinni has also aided the schools, too through altering the rating process and helping with scheduling. As he receives football schedules, he’ll cross-reference and let other teams know about openings because not all the schools use the OHSAA or SSAC website to find openings.

“When I first started, the schools asked me to do that,” Zinni said. “They wanted me to gather all of the information and I started compiling an open-date list. I have schools from out of the area call me, too.

Zinni’s been around the OVAC basically his entire life. He was an athlete at Yorkville High School, playing baseball, football and basketball.

After college, Zinni entered the teaching and coaching profession.

Zinni was the head football coach at Yorkville High for a handful of seasons and then entered officiating.

“I loved coaching, but I was going on tranquilizers at the age of 28 and I decided to retire from coaching,” Zinni recalled. “I still loved the game of football, so I decided to enter officiating.”

He worked from 1970-91 until he suffered a heart attack and hung up the whistle.

During his officiating career, he worked Ohio playoffs for 14 years and West Virginia playoffs for 15 years, including working the 1977 Class AAA State Championship Game.

“Outside of when I had a heart attack, I’ve been involved with the OVAC, in one way or another, since 1951,” Zinni said.

Zinni is also a member of the OVAC Hall of Fame Committee and will continue in that role.

Don, who will be able to be on the golf course more now, also spent a lot of time driving back-and-forth to Columbus this football season to watch his grandson, Tanner, play at Dublin Coffman.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com