news 2 days ago

Adam Flore, Pittsburgh college basketball official, has turned inventor

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — Mike White Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sept. 16-- Sep. 16--Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin ... and Adam Flore?

OK, so maybe the fourth name doesn't quite belong with the first three. But there is a common thread to the four. They are all inventors.

Flore, 27, is a Pittsburgher, a graduate of West Mifflin High School and a certified public accountant who moonlights as a college basketball official at night in the winter. Flore's recent little invention was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and it just might be taking off in the sports world.

Flore's invention deals with whistle blowers -- and not the kind who were around the president of the United States. Flore's invention also deals with hot air -- blown in the proper direction. And you might see Flore's invention very soon -- near the chins of sports officials and also coaches all across the country.

"My goal from the beginning was not to quit my job and just sell Whistle Shields," Flore said with a laugh.

The official name of Flore's invention is The Whistle Shield. It is a small piece of plastic, a few inches wide, that attaches to a whistle. Such a small thing could be big for sports officials and the concern of spreading COVID-19. Sales of The Whistle Shield started last week with 50 on-line orders in the first 24 hours, and sales continue to grow at a steady pace.

When a regular whistle is blown, particles go straight and upward, possibly toward players. When a whistle with The Whistle Shield is blown, the particles are directed straight down toward the neck and chin area of the official and not into the air.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the concerns for return-to-play at some levels, including high school and college, is an official's whistle. Trying to blow a whistle through a mask is next to impossible. While many college football officials are simply using the regular whistle, some have used a hand-held electronic whistle for games the past two weekends. But there are complaints that the electronic whistles are not loud enough.

The Whistle Shield alleviates some of the worries and problems. That's why Flore said one Big 12 school asked for 50 Whistle Shields for their coaches. When Flore's product was in the testing phase earlier this summer, a professional sports league (Flore did not want to name it) asked for 100. Flore already has had orders from officials in different countries.

The PIAA has not made any whistle recommendations to its officials, but the Illinois High School Association informed Flore late last week that the supervisor of officials in the state is going to recommend The Whistle Shield as an alternative to the electronic hand-held whistle. Ron Tyburski is a Penn Township (Westmoreland County) resident and a major-college basketball official who also assigns boys high school officials to all WPIAL Class 6A and 5A games. Tyburski said The Whistle Shield will probably be a recommendation to those officials.

Flore also has been in contact with some directors of NCAA officiating and the NCAA might recommend the use of the Whistle Shield for basketball officials.

"I think it is a very solid option that has a chance to be used by a lot of officials across the country," said James Breeding, an NCAA Division I college basketball official for 21 years who has worked 12 NCAA tournaments and also the 2019 NCAA Final Four.

A 30-second video on YouTube and also The Whistle Shield's web site (thewhistleshield.com) shows the effectiveness of The Whistle Shield. In the video, Flore blows a regular whistle into a ribbon streamer and then a whistle with The Whistle Shield. Flore said the video was the "catalyst" that made things click with customers.

"The Whistle Shield stops all particles from entering the eyes, nose or mouth area of players because it goes straight down, as compared to maybe the best case of limiting only a small percentage of particles by using something like a polyester pouch," Flore said.

An obvious question is how in the name of whistle blowers did Flore come up with this idea? Well, blame, er, credit COVID-19.

Flore, a William & Mary graduate who lives on the North Side, has moved up the basketball officiating ladder rather quickly for someone in his late 20s. He officiates NCAA mid-major Division I games, and some at the Division II and III levels (he also has worked some WPIAL games over the years). In the spring, Flore found himself having to work from home for JLL, a commercial real estate company.

"Me being a little entrepreneurial and maybe having too much time on my hands, being locked in the house for three months, I started thinking," Flore said with a laugh. "I thought we were going to need a solution for something over the whistle.

"When you think about it, we probably should've been doing something like this (Whistle Shield) for a long time. You know there hasn't been an update with whistle technology since 1987 when the whistle without a pea was introduced?"

Flore came up with the shield idea and he became partners with Ryan Martin, another college basketball official in Richmond, Va. But one problem. Flore had no idea how -- or who -- could make the shield. So he approached Creation Labs, a Mt. Lebanon company that produces 3-D printing products.

"Within three days, we had our first version," Flore said. "We've been through 10 versions to get where we are now."

Flore worked with officials supervisors around the country to get samples of The Whistle Shield to various officials and coaches.

"We wanted to get feedback and have them put it on their whistle," Flore said.

Breeding said, "In the current environment, anything we can do to help protect everyone involved in the game is super important going into the season. Adam and Ryan have worked incredibly hard to create this product without compromising the sound of the whistle, and that is a real challenge."

The cost for one Whistle Shield is $11. A two-pack goes for $18 and a 10-pack for $85. They are available for purchase on www.whistleshield.com. But $1 of every shield sold also goes to ALS research.

"The Whistle Shield itself is sort of a Band-Aid to let us use whistles we've used forever," Flore said. "Once we're sort of through this COVID-19 phase, there's a bigger opportunity to maybe completely re-design the whistle. This will never become my full-time job. It will sort of be a passion project. But to know that maybe we're making a positive impact on the way officials do their jobs and also giving back to ALS, that's what I want out of this."

Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com and Twitter @mwhiteburgh

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