Ruth Jackson new USAWA Official

by Al Myers

Congrats to Ruth Jackson for becoming the latest new USAWA Official.  RJ was the first one to undergo the more strenuous requirements to become an official.   A couple of years ago the USAWA began requiring practical training after passing the written rules test in order to become a certified official. Ruth just completed her practical training at the USAWA Grip Championships/Dino Gym Record Day earlier this month.  She is now listed on the Official’s List, and will receive a 3 year officials card.

Scott Schmidt – New LEVEL 2 OFFICIAL

by Al Myers

Bob Geib lifting under the watch of 3 Level 2 USAWA Officials at the 2013 USAWA National Championships: Chad Ullom (left), Scott Schmidt (center), and Joe Ciavattone (right).

It’s always exciting news when a new USAWA certified official reaches LEVEL 2 officiating status.  Congratulations goes to Scott Schmidt for becoming the most recent Level 2 official.   Scott went about reaching Level 2 status in an unorthodox manner.  Let me explain.

The typical process of becoming a USAWA official involves taking the Rule Test first.  This consists of an open book exam of 100 questions covering the rules in the USAWA Rulebook.  There is no time limit for taking the test, and to pass it you must score over 90%.  After passing the Rules Test, an aspiring official must then perform the Practical Training Sessions, which consists of attending 3 meets and judging alongside a Level 2 official. After this has been completed successfully,  a person becomes a Level 1 Test Qualified Official.  The “other” category of Level 1 officials is the Level 1 Experience Qualified.  This was created to allow those very experienced USAWA officials to be “grandfathered in” as officials when the USAWA Officials Program began in 2009.  To be eligible to become a Level 1 Experience Qualified Official, one must have officiated in over 25 prior USAWA competitions and/or events.  Once a Level 1 Test Qualified official has officiated over 25 competitions they can apply for Level 2 status.

Scott has been an official in the USAWA for over 20 years.  He has officiated 100’s of events, and often serves as the head official in big competitions.  He spent 2 days sitting in the HEAD CHAIR at this past National Championships, and is regarded as one of the best officials in the USAWA by the lifters.  He was formally listed as a Level 1 Experience Official, and now since he has passed the USAWA Rules Test, he has “officially” joined the Level 2 group of elite USAWA officials.  Since Scott grandfathered in, he went about this entire process in reverse order by taking the rules test last!  I have hoped that all of the Level 1 Experience Qualified officials would take the rules test and become Level 2 officials to show support to the USAWA Officials Program.   It is next to impossible to become a Level 2 Experience Qualified official now as the initial grant of  Certified Official status without taking the rules test is not allowed anymore.

Again, Congrats to Scott!

Thom Van Vleck: NEW Level 2 Official

by Al Myers

Thom Van Vleck (right) is joined by fellow USAWA officials LaVerne Myers (left) and Denny Habecker (middle) at the USAWA Heavy Lift Championships in York in 2011. As you can see, these three took their judging duties very serious as they are getting "down and dirty" to get a good view of the lifting!

Thom Van Vleck has just been promoted to the highest level of officiating status in the USAWA.  He is now a Level 2 Official, and joins a very short list of the most qualified officials within the USAWA.  Since the development of the USAWA Officials Program in 2009,  officials must NOW be certified to judge any USAWA competition/event.    I would like to review a bit of this as it pertains to USAWA Rulebook:

VII. Officials

10.   There will be two levels of classification for Certified USAWA officials.

  • Level 1 Test Qualified – The official has passed the USAWA Rules Test and completed the practical training sessions.
  • Level 1 Experience Qualified – The official has the experience of officiating in 25 or more competitions or events.
  • Level 2 – The official has passed the USAWA Rules Test and has completed the practical training sessions, and has the experience of officiating in 25 or more competitions or events.  

Thom has been officiating in the USAWA for close to 10 years and has officiated at some “BIG” meets.  He has officiated numerous championships events, including the 2006, 2009, and 2011 National Championships.  He also officiated at the 2012 IAWA World Championships.  He earned the Level 2 classification for officiating in over 25 events (as well as passing the USAWA Rules Test).  He is now awarded a LIFETIME OFFICIALS CARD in the USAWA and will have the ability to approve new officials that undergo the Practical Training Sessions.  Congrats Thom!!!

USAWA Officials Program

by Al Myers

Chad Ullom has just been promoted to a LEVEL 2 USAWA official. Chad has been one of the "top three" most active USAWA officials in IAWA competions over the past 5 years. In this picture, Chad (on left) is officiating at the 2012 Gold Cup in Glasgow, Scotland.

One thing that has happened over the past three years has been the development of an USAWA Officials Program.  The program started in mid-2009 with the initial guidelines. Since then the program has been improved with rule amendments requiring additional criteria.   I finally feel that we now have a TOP NOTCH officials program, and that is something to be proud of.  Before 2009 several programs had TRIED to be initiated, but failed.  Anyone at that time could be an official in an USAWA meet, without any qualifications.  The previous rulebooks had NO guidelines established for becoming an official, other than a couple vague lines such as these, “all officials must be approved by the USAWA”, and “the general secretary shall maintain a list of the national officials”.  That’s it.  There’s no point in having rules/laws if they’re ambiguous, and are not enforced.  Now if you want your lifts to count you MUST be officiated by a certified USAWA official that is listed on the Officials List.  If this does not happen – the lift/meet was not official, and all invalid results will not be reported in the meet results on the website as well as no records being established.  That’s “the bite” for not following the USAWA rules.

I’m VERY EXCITED to report a couple of “firsts” that have just occurred within the Officials Programs.  Ruth Jackson has just successfully passed the USAWA Rules Test and will become the first USAWA member to undergo the Practical Training Session in becoming an USAWA official.  This change was just passed at the past USAWA meeting as further development of the Officials Program.  She will have one year to accomplish this training.  The development of the Officials Program has been a gradual plan to allow for it’s success, with additional requirements being added yearly.  I have felt that the reason the previous official programs have failed were because of a couple factors, 1. requiring “too much” to begin with that NO ONE wanted to abide by, and 2. No penalties/ramifications for not participating in the program (afterall, before you could STILL be an official in all meets with the SAME privileges as someone certified ).  The IAWA(UK) has ALWAYS been WAY AHEAD of us with their officials program, and have required practical training for years before an IAWA(UK) official could be certified.  Now I feel our officials program is as good (if not better!) than theirs. 

The second “first” is that Chad Ullom has become the first member to apply and be granted  Level 2 certification.  Congrats Chad!  This requires an official to be qualified in TWO CATAGORIES , thus the name Level 2.  Level 2 officials are required to have passed the testing requirements, AND  the experience requirements.  Level 2 USAWA officials are considered the TOP TIER of USAWA Officials, and have Lifetime Certification. 

All the details of the USAWA Officials Program are outlined in the USAWA Rulebook and on this website under “Officials List and Rules Test”

One or Three Officials?

by Al Myers

Chad Ullom officiating the 2011 IAWA World Championships sitting in the Head Judges chair. Would you trust this guy to make the only call in the 1-Official System?? He looks half asleep to me.

A very good question was brought up recently on our USAWA Facebook Page regarding the use of officials (BTW – if you have not joined our USAWA Facebook Page by now, make sure to join as it is a constant source of current information, along with numerous meet pictures).  The question involved how many officials are required to be used in competition.  The confusion on this matter arises because the USAWA allows the 1-Official System to be used, whereas the IAWA sanctioned competitions requires that all meets be officiated using three officials.  The upcoming World Postal Meet is an IAWA sanctioned event, so THREE OFFICIALS (or two as I’ll explain later) MUST be used to enter lifts in this postal meet.  This meet is different than our USAWA Postal Meets where they may be officiated using  just one official. 

First, let me review the USAWA Rules regarding the Official’s Systems that are in place:


4.  Two systems are approved for officiating USAWA competitions or events.

  • One Official System – The competition or event will be officiated by only one certified official.  This system is recommended for small competitions or events, such as record days or postal competitions.
  • Three Official System – The competition or event will be officiated by three certified officials.  Approval of the lift requires a minimum of 2 officials deeming the lift good.  This system is recommended for large competitions or events, such as the National Championship.

Second, these are the IAWA Rules regarding the use of three officials:


  • All officials must be approved by their National Governing Body, or IAWA where there is no NGB
  • Three officials should be used for all competitions, and for exhibitions also where possible (though World Records can be established with only two officials present, so long as both pass the lift).

The USAWA membership voted and passed, allowing the 1-Official System to be in place, at the 2006 Annual Meeting.  This issue was brought forth to the membership by Bill Clark.  If I remember right, it seemed at the meeting that pretty much everyone in attendance was in agreement with the vote.  I do know now that not all of the members of the USAWA believe in the 1-Official System and don’t use it at all in their gym meets.   Art Montini has told me that himself and the Ambridge “Gang” will not use the 1-Official System in their meets EVER!  This issue was presented at the IAWA meeting as well that year in Scotland.  After the discussion in which it appeared to me that most everyone was against the 1-Official System, a motion was never made to introduce the 1-Official System.  Thus the IAWA still requires 3 officials, while in the USAWA the 1-Official System and the 3-Official System is allowed.   But even if the 3-Official System is used, a meet could be done with ONLY 2 officials and fall within the realms of the IAWA rules.  However, both officials must agree that it is a good lift (read IAWA above – the second line).   If just one official feels that it is a bad lift, then it is a no lift.  So in a sense, since you only need two “white lights” for a good lift in the 3-Official System, you are assuming the nonexistent third official has given you a red  in the imaginary chair!    How does this impact records?  First of all, any USAWA record can be established using either system.  For IAWA World Records, the 3-Official System must be used, including any USAWA meet.

Now for my opinion on this subject, which hasn’t changed from the day it was proposed and passed in the USAWA.  No one can argue that 3 officials are always better than 1 official.  Using 3 officials, and one official makes a bad call it doesn’t fail the lift if it should be good (or pass the lift when it should be failed).   Three officials spreads the decision over more individuals, and hopefully with that, a better result could be obtained.  That is why I will always support using the 3 official System in big competitions where there are qualified officials present to allow for it.  The problem arises in small gym meets (like postals and record days) where the entry numbers are so small that lifters outnumber officials!  For these meets to even happen, the 1-Official System HAS TO BE IN PLACE to allow for officiating.  Otherwise, it becomes impossible to even conduct small meets, or enter postal meets.  I am also familiar with events having one official (like strongman competitions and the Highland Games) so I know that one good official can do a good job and make the right call.  Why is there not three officials in those events?  The answer – they are not needed!  I feel the problem why the IAWA membership never accepted the 1-Official was tradition – weightlifters are very use to having three officials in the chairs and the thought of having  just one make the BIG DECISION was not something they wanted to accept.  I can’t imagine that the IAWA(UK) meets don’t have the same problem as us with properly trying to find 3 judges to judge small meets, like this World Postal Meet.  Maybe with time, IAWA will come “on board” with the 1-Official System and be the same as the USAWA on this.  Without a doubt,  requiring 3 officials in this World Postal Meet will hurt participation.

New Official – Judy Habecker

by Al Myers

Judy Habecker performing a Ciavattone Grip Deadlift at the 2010 Gold Cup in Walpole, MA.

I just received word from the USAWA Official’s Director Joe Garcia that Judy Habecker has passed the USAWA Rules Exam and is now a Level 1 Test Qualified USAWA Official.   I just placed Judy’s name on our ever growing list of officials.   I now feel sorry for the lifters in Habeckers Gym, because with Judy in the chair there won’t be any “shoddy” lifts passed. When I was sitting by Judy at our past USAWA Nationals (I was the announcer and she was the scorekeeper), it was obvious to me that Judy had a keen sense of the rules.  She ALWAYS KNEW what the infraction was when a lift wasn’t passed.  A few times she felt that certain shouldn’t have been passed!  (and a couple of times it was when her husband Denny was lifting! haha).  Like I said already, I now feel sorry for the lifters in Habeckers Gym!    I know Judy will make a great judge, and all I can say is IT IS ABOUT TIME she became an USAWA official!  There has been some confusion in the past with the thinking you must be a competitive lifter to be an official.  This is just not true.  There is NOTHING in our rules or bylaws saying this must be the case.  I’m not inferring that Judy is not a competitive lifter either – she often makes a least one appearance to the platform every year. She has USAWA records dating back to 2001, and is the holder of 30 USAWA Records.  She is most proud of her 304 pound 12″ base deadlift done at the 2005 Gold Cup in Hawaii. 

Congratulations Judy!

Judging at York

by Al Myers

Joe Garcia had the last lift of the meet at the Heavy Lift Nationals with his successful 1900# Hip Lift. By this time at meets, most officials are "nodding off", hoping to be finished with their obligation. But look at these guys, they are judging like it is the first lift of the day. (officials left to right): LaVerne Myers, Denny Habecker, and Thom Van Vleck

I know I have already mentioned this in a previous story, but I want to reiterate how pleased I was with the officiating at the Heavy Lift Nationals in York.  Thom wrote a story about professionalism amongst officials in a Daily News Story a while back, and how in the “old days” officials took their job as officials serious and looked the part of officials at meets by dressing up in suits and ties.  Thom had a picture of his Uncle Phil officiating a meet in his suit, of which he changed into after competing in his singlet.   You don’t see that at any meets anymore nowadays. In the business workforce, people used to dress up for work as businesses felt it set a positive image for the company.  Then along came casual Friday, followed by EVERYDAY becoming casual Friday and dress codes became relaxed or nonexistent.  This same thing has happened to the way officials dress at meets.  I have been at meets where the officials were dressed in shorts and a ratty t-shirt, which definitely doesn’t send a good message to those watching the meet.  

It was a great pleasure to be at a meet where the offiicals came to do their job because that is what they wanted to do, and not rely on the lifters judging themselves.  I never mind judging at meets I’m competing in as I know it is an important part of contributing to the days event. But it was nice FOR ONCE to have dedicated and committed officials who only job was to make sure that everyone was officiated justly and fairly.  We are a small organization and we all are know each other and are good friends, so it is hard not to have personal bias even when we try our best not to.  But I have always felt it was a conflict of interest when an lifter is judging another competitor.  Even when you make your best call, and in turn have to turn down a bad lift, it may appear that it was turned down for other reasons.   At the breakfast table the day of the meet, Thom remarked to my father in jest that it would be best  for them to sit at another table away from us lifters.  I found this pretty funny, because in the “old days” that is how it was.  The officials were “stand offish” to the lifters as not to have any personal relationships with them that might lead to future biased judging. (However, I tried to bribe Thom the night before with free scotch but I don’t think it worked!!). 

I hope with our new USAWA Officials Program that the pride of being an official will be restored like it used to be.  We have made great progress in our Officials Program and will continue to make improvements to it until it gets where it needs to be.  It is not there yet.  I hope to someday have ALL of our meets like this one – where the officials show up to just officiate because they WANT to, and in turn get the respect and recognition they deserve.

Joe Ciavattone – Level 2 Official

by Al Myers

Joe Ciavattone is now a Level 2 USAWA Official.

Joe Ciavattone Sr., the owner of Joe’s Gym,  has just passed the USAWA Official’s Exam which upgrades him from a Level 1 USAWA Official to a Level 2 USAWA Official.  Level 2 is the highest level of official certification attainable in the USAWA .  This gives Joe LIFETIME CERTIFICATION as an official.  To be eligible as a Level 2 official, an official must have knowledge of the rules (by passing the Rules Exam) and experience officiating (by serving as an official in over 25 USAWA competitions).  There are currently only 11 Level 2 Officials in the USAWA, which makes Joe part of an elite group!

Congratulations Joe!!!

Improvements to the USAWA Officials Program

by Al Myers

Level 2 USAWA Certified Official Frank Ciavattone officiating at the 2010 USAWA National Championships.

One of the big changes this past year in the USAWA was the development of an Officials Program.  This started at the 2009 Annual Meeting with the approval of the new improved Rulebook that outlined the new Officials Program, and by electing Joe Garcia as the Officials Director for the USAWA.  Improvements were made to the Officials Program at the 2010 Annual Meeting last month.  I am going to describe and explain the USAWA Officials Program so everyone will be more knowledgeable of it.  Everything I say here is outlined in the Rulebook or on the website.

The USAWA has two levels of Certified Officials – Level 1 and Level 2.  Level 1 has been split into two subdivisions – Level 1 Test Qualified and Level 1 Experience Qualified. The Rulebook (Section VII. 9) explains these two levels as follows:

There will be two levels of classification for Certified USAWA officials.

• Level 1 Test Qualified – The official has passed the USAWA Rules Test.

• Level 1 Experience Qualified – The official has the experience of officiating in 25 or more competitions or events.

• Level 2 – The official has passed the USAWA Rules Test and has the experience of officiating in 25 or more competitions or events.

I want to emphasize that ALL OFFICIALS (Level 1 and Level 2) have the same authority as a Certified USAWA Official.  Nothing in the Rulebook says different.  It is simply a classification that details HOW one became certified.  These classifications are recorded for each official in the “Officials” section of the website and are kept up to date at all times.  To become a Certified Official (if you are not Experience Qualified) requires taking and passing an Open Book Exam of the USAWA Rulebook.  It must be sent to the Officials Director Joe Garcia for grading.  You must score over 90% correct answers to pass.  Once you pass, Joe informs me to list you on the website as a current official. All of this is detailed in the “Officials” section and the Rules Test is available in several different formats, so hopefully, one will work for you to  download.

One of the big changes to the Officials Programs is adding time limits to the Official Cards.  The membership agreed to a 3-year Officials Card before re-certification is required. The new Rulebook (available August 1st on the website) will have this information in it.  Section VII. 12 and Section VII.13 have been added to the Rulebook, as stated below:

12. Once an official has passed the Rules Test, the Officials Director will issue an Officials card that will be valid for 3 years from the date the official passed the test. Level 1 Test Qualified Officials will be required to retake the Rules Test after 3 years to maintain Certified Official Status. Level 1 Experience Qualified Officials will receive an Officials card that is valid for 3 years and will be automatically renewed unless the official has been inactive as an official during the previous three year period, in which a new Officials Card will not be issued unless the individual makes a written request to the Officials Director. Level 2 Officials are exempt from recertification, and are issued a lifetime officials card.

13. An individual must make a written request to the Officials Director in order to apply for Level 1 Experience Qualified Certified Status or to show proof of officiating experience in order to change their level of certification.

Level 1 Experience Qualified Officials were developed originally as a “Grandfather Clause” to allow those VERY experienced qualified officials not to have to take a Rules Test.   These officials have always been the backbone of officiating in the USAWA and have proven their worth as a good official.  However, now, if they have not been active as an official for 3 years (and officiating ONLY ONE meet in this time keeps them active) they will be dropped from the list and must make a written request to Officials Director to regain Certified Officials Status.  I think this is very reasonable.  Why keep someone on our Officials List if they haven’t been contributing to the USAWA as an official?? Also, if someone IS Experience Qualified and hasn’t been officiating for several years, requiring a written request from them to become active as an official again in the USAWA doesn’t seem out of line to me. It’s not much to ask of them to drop Joe or me a short letter or email about their intentions of wanting to officiate in the USAWA again.    Joe and I  have no way of knowing who is “Experience Qualified” without someone telling us and giving us proof.  Most old meet results in the Strength Journal didn’t list the Officials.  Truthfully, I really don’t understand why Level 1 Experience Qualified Officials don’t want to take the Rules Test and become Level 2 Officials.  Lots has changed in the Rulebook and I’m sure they would learn something new as well as giving support to our new Officials Program.

Another new addition to the Rulebook involving officials is adding the minimum age of 16 years. Section VII.2 states The minimum age for a Certified Official is 16 years of age. Much debate arose at the meeting when this was discussed.  Some felt like it should be a higher age requirement.  Myself, I think 16 is a good minimum age to be an official.  Afterall, I’m meeting kids on the road that age when I’m driving!   I still think that at big meets (like Nationals and Worlds) more seasoned officials should be used.

I am pleased how the USAWA Officials Program is going.  We started it last year with a simple system,  and as time goes we are adding more requirements to make it better.  I feel the reason the USAWA Official Programs have failed in the past is because they were too complicated and required too much to start with.  They failed before they had the time to succeed.  We still have a long ways to go before we have a great Officials Program – but at least we have SOMETHING.   So as of now to become a Certified USAWA Official – all you have to do is take and pass a test!