Feature – Right People, Right Place, Right Time

Making the right moves in assigning isn’t easy. Assigners must make sure all the pieces are in the right position. Find out what strategy is involved in the assigning game.


By Matt Moore

It takes a special person to be a good assigner. You’ve got to find the right people, send them to the right place and do it at the right time. Look what happens if you don’t:

• Send a crew (the wrong people) to a game that is above their skill level, and all hell can break loose. The game will end up out of control and there will be many angry people. Two second-year officials were randomly sent to a girls’ basketball game on a Monday night. The only problem was it was a rivalry game that would decide first place. The game was intense from the word go and the officials weren’t prepared, individually or as a crew. By halftime coaches, players and administrators were upset. Both officials were out of their league that night. Problems caused, not problems solved.

• Send a great crew (the right people) to a game where they aren’t needed (the wrong place), and a lot of hard feelings will exist. An ex-professional baseball umpire worked a small college game and was offended when a coach called him, “Blue.” After the umpire’s reaction, the coach was so annoyed that the umpire had lost all credibility in the coach’s eyes and the coach was on the phone to the assigner that night. Problems caused, not problems solved.

• Send a great crew to the right game and sometimes that’s not even enough. There are too many variables to know for sure in advance if things will go well on any given night of the season. All it takes is one misstep, one coach having a bad night and one official not handling one situation correctly. Look at any game in the highest professional level and see ejections in baseball or technical fouls in basketball. The crew was “right” for the game, but maybe not that night, for whatever reason. Again, problems caused, not problems solved.

So what makes a successful assigner? Simply put, it’s the one who more often than not gets the right people into the right place at the right time.

That topic was explored during the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit with an expert panel of assigners, past and present, weighing in on what they believe were the keys to their successes.


For high school and college basketball assigner Donnie Eppley, the first key is to be patient. Eppley assigns for 42 high schools and 38 colleges and universities throughout the Northeast.

“I have to wait for other levels to assign,” he said. “And on my staff, I have about 200 basketball officials at the collegiate level. Many of them work at other levels to include Division I, II and III.

“What I’ve got to do is to wait for those levels to come out. So the Division I assignments will begin to come out in early August. It takes about a month for that entire process to take place. And then the Division IIs will take their opportunity to grab some of the officials. And then it’s crunch time for me because our season starts around mid-November and guys want to know where they’re going to be working. So I have to be patient.”

Once Eppley, the associate executive director for IAABO, starts scheduling his games, he does each official individually.

“I pull up somebody’s name, match it against their availability, and then I make an entire schedule,” he said. “It takes about 20 minutes to do a schedule, anywhere from 20 to 30 games for my officials. After I finish my college assignments I have to get busy with the high schools.”

Because he assigns at multiple levels, Eppley is able to develop officials for the next level. “We’re able to identify young talent and keep the people going through the system,” he said.

Eppley also makes it a point to balance veteran officials with younger officials).

“As I’m hiring new people, and last year I had turned over about 31 new officials for Division III, I take those officials and give them a variety of preseason assignments, some tournaments and various levels of assignments that actually balance somebody that’s been around for a while with a rookie to get them some experience at the collegiate level,” he said.

Time management is a big key for Eppley, whose full-time job with IAABO comes first.

Marty Hickman is the executive director for the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), so the only assigning his office does is playoff games. But because those are the games with the most importance in his state, it’s still critical to get the right people on the right game.

“It’s important that for us at the high school level certainly to know the teams in the rivalry type games and to know the personalities of the coaches and the officials and try to get a good fit in there,” Hickman said. “And that’s one of our toughest assignments, especially in a situation where we have a lot of officials and a lot of games and having to identify some of the games that might be more troublesome than others.”

Hickman and his staff got an up-close-and-personal experience in dealing with a troublesome situation at the 2013 state basketball tournament. “I can tell you,” he said, “if the executive director is getting involved, something’s gone horribly wrong.”

The Class 2A championship game was marred with accusations of racial slurs, leading to technical fouls and an unprecedented demand from Hickman himself at halftime.

“(We) expressed our concerns to the schools about what had occurred in the first half, including three technical fouls, a player ejection and a bench warning,” Hickman told the Chicago Tribune at the time of the incident. “The onus was put on the coaches to provide the necessary leadership to change the tenor of the game. We also made it very clear that if things did not change, we would take the unprecedented step of canceling the game.”

Hickman and the staff knew the game had potential to be rough, but probably not as rough as it was.

“We’ve got a north/south kind of rivalry, we’ve got a very rural school and a city school,” he said. “They’re 350 miles apart and cultures apart. And from the very tipoff the game really didn’t go well.

“We thought we had done literally everything right in terms of looking at this game. We knew this was coming. We thought we had the right officials.”

Hickman praised the officials, but said that the game just got out of hand early, resulting in his unprecedented intervention.

“So this is just an example of how even with a lot of preparation, things can go wrong,” Hickman said. “But it also provides some very teachable moments for us as we move forward in our assigning process.”


Getting officials to buy into the vision of the person leading the staff — whether it is a state office or a college conference commissioner — is critical for success and not always easy.

“I think it’s really important that you have your top people understand the path that you’re going to travel, and it takes a lot of communication,” said Ed Rush, who officiated in the NBA for 31 seasons and was the director of officiating for the league for five years. He’s also the former coordinator for officials in the Pac-12 Conference.

“I had been with the Pac-12 for six years, and I worked on the side of development,” he said. “And then in the last two years we actually developed a sense of measurement, and we had a program where we did game grading. And it was a system that was strong enough that it was 45 percent of their ratings.

“There were a lot of folks that were loving that, and they just seized the moment. And then there were a handful of guys, that’s a pretty dramatic change, and they really had trouble with that.”

Rush ran a three-and-a-half day camp for his staff, spending a full day on the NCAA-mandated topic of sportsmanship and bench decorum.

“We talked about principles. It was very successful. As a matter of fact, 10 out of the 12 coaches actually went out of their way to say this is the best,” he said, because the coaches knew the boundaries and that officials were consistent with those boundaries.

Rush resigned as the conference’s coordinator a week before the 2013 Final Four because of an incident in which he made a joking reference during a pregame meeting with his officials in an attempt to ensure coaches would receive a technical foul if they didn’t behave better on the sideline during the next game of the tournament.

Rush said he learned a lot from the experience as it relates to working with officials and developing a staff.

“The takeaway from that for all of us in leadership is that when you’re in leadership and basketball is an emotional game,” he said, “you really have to be very careful about what you say, who you say it to, how you say it.”

Sometimes, getting the right people on the floor can be made more difficult because of the rules that restrict who can be assigned.

Joan Powell, the NCAA’s national coordinator of volleyball officials, assigns the officials for three national tournaments — a difficult job for sure to be responsible for officials across the country and across three levels.

“I have four great regional advisers,” Powell said. “One actually is a retired volleyball coach, two are veteran officials and one is a conference coordinator. And with those people I’m able to travel quite a bit in the fall and also evaluate and see a lot of officials.”

Complicating matters for Powell is that the NCAA Division II and III staffs no longer want to wait on Division I to assign playoff officials. The Division III Volleyball Committee selected officials in February for the season, and the Division II committee selected its officials in March.

“Officials (weren’t) being evaluated for their body of work for 2013, (it was) actually 2012,” she said. “But that’s what Division II and III want to do. Nominations come from their conferences and from volleyball coaches.”

The rules and the assignments are different in Division I. Powell assigns line judges as well, something she doesn’t have to do at the lower levels. Also, she is limited to a 400-mile radius. However, she does get to fly some officials when necessary at that level.

There can still be problems.

“It’s very easy for (postseason officials) to talk about how everything’s already pre-determined and that the NCAA already decides who they want,” she said. “It’s not true at all. I have to be cautious of what has happened in the past during the season, whether or not there were conflicts with coaches, whether or not this is a good venue for a particular official to be at. We put them in crews but they don’t necessarily advance as crews.”


There are complications in getting the right person to the right place at the right time at every level. Two that were discussed are officials staying on top of when they are available (since they are independent contractors) and working together with other officials.

“To have the best crew, you have to understand team officiating,” Rush said. “You have to understand that in a three-person system, what you do on the floor has to elevate the performance of the other two officials.”

The decision to become an assigner isn’t an easy one, because in most cases, it means coming off the field or court.

“I miss (officiating) so much,” Powell said. “There’s just some aggravation that comes and some consternation being an assigner. There’s some great pressure. But in officiating you kind of leave it behind. You debrief afterward in the locker room and then you’re able to move on.”

Part of being an assigner, however, is dealing with what happens when it’s the wrong person, the wrong time or the wrong place — it only takes one of the three.

Hickman stresses to officials who work championship games in the future that they are there to take care of business. “We’re fearful at our level that what happens sometimes in a championship game is our officials take the attitude that they don’t want to really influence the outcome, they are going to let them play. They’re maybe going to let the coaches get away with a little more than they should, and it’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”

While Hickman can meet with the officials he assigns, since they are all at one site, Eppley can’t get to his officials with more than a general message through email. But the coaches sure get to him with their opinions of games, crews and calls.

“I have a rule where the coach can’t call me on game night, so they’ve got to review the film and then contact me the next day,” he said. “And that applies to all levels, high school and college. They’ve got about a 24-hour period to get over it. The officials — if there’s a problem in the game — have got to call that night so I’m aware of it.”

Rush liked what Eppley requires, calling it powerful.

“On any situation I encourage people to call, but we have watched everything,” Rush said. “And there were many times coaches would call and I could say, ‘I know why you’re calling. In addition I have a couple more plays you might want to look at.’

“That’s really disarming. They trust you, they know that people are accountable, and it really changed the dynamics.”


Hickman praised the power of video as it related to his situation in the state finals.

“When the little shove happened in our game there was a gasp in the arena because everybody knew you just can’t do that,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in high school sports. But it took until the folks could really see that video for them to believe that what that kid did was inappropriate. At the moment, they weren’t buying that it was just a little touch.”

Eppley requires his Division III officials to register through  the ArbiterSports central hub for basketball, because of the training videos.

“I believe all officials at all levels should see those videos because it’s the same game regardless of the level,” he said. “I think they do an excellent job of putting those on the site.”

So far, it’s all been about what happens when one of the three elements — right people, right place, right time — is missing. What about when it all goes right?

“The biggest joy that I get is the postseason,” Eppley said. “Last year at the Division III level, I had 28 postseason assignments in the four conferences, and I had 21 NCAA assignments. And out of the NCAA assignments I was able to send a crew to the Division III Final Four, and that’s very satisfying.”

Rush noted he switched the system in the Pac-12 from opportunity given to opportunity earned.

“We put six new people into the tournament, and every single one of them graded in the top 20 percent during the tournament itself,” he said. “So being able to see them succeed in a higher pressure level in a place that they’d never been before, to lay that foundation to me I think that’s the leaders of the future. That was really gratifying.”

Hickman is very proud of his state’s officials.

“When all those pieces come together and they get an opportunity after many years of service to work a championship game or a state final game, and to see the looks on their faces and to see how much joy they have as being part of that experience, it’s really heartwarming.”

For Powell, it’s the chance to be the bearer of good news.

“I think it’s the phone call telling somebody, especially a first-timer in postseason, letting them know that they have been nominated and they have been assigned to a postseason game,” she said. “It’s just so gratifying to hear that ‘Woohoo!’”

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor. He has umpired for more than 25 years, mostly at the high school and college levels.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 03/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Football Clete – Clete Blakeman Biography

Originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Referee Magazine. Click here to subscribe.




NFL referee Clete Blakeman lights up the room and the field. That’s what his crewmates say about him. Tripp Sutter, a Big Ten official, had a formative experience that brought Clete Blakeman’s unique leadership qualities home. “I was 21 or 22 years old and went to work a game up at Dana College in Blair, Neb.,” he said. “I was asked to sub for the side judge, and it was my second collegiate game ever. Mostly I was working Omaha area high school metro games.”

As Sutter described it, he had concerns about walking into a new environment being both the young guy and the newcomer. Blakeman could have made things awkward for Sutter, kept him at a distance. Instead, the opposite happened.

“With Clete, he has the ability to make you feel like you are the most important person in the room,” Sutter explained. “He has the ‘it’ factor, making you feel welcome. He immediately made me feel like a part of the crew, not like an uncomfortable rookie.”


A friendship blossomed from that initial meeting, with Blakeman eventually standing up in Sutter’s wedding. “People love being around Clete. He knows who he is, and is comfortable in his own skin,” Sutter added.

On the football field that translates into a genuineness toward his crew, the players and coaches. “He’ll never patronize a coach,” Sutter said. “He listens and lets a coach know he cares, but sometimes that call is just going to go against you. It’s something I use as well — demonstrating that I care by listening and explaining something to a coach, if necessary.”

“He’s the real McCoy,” former NFL crewmate Greg Meyer agreed. Meyer got to know Blakeman when they were officiating in the Big 12 Conference, and they went on to work together in the NFL for five years — Blakeman’s rookie year in 2008, then his first four years as a referee starting in 2010.

The 50-year-old Blakeman, who lives in Omaha, Neb., was named a referee in 2010 after two seasons in the league. He was selected as the alternate referee for Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in February 2014.

“He’s consistent, classy, confident and inclusive,” Meyer explained. “He’s a good listener, and not dictatorial.

“I admire how he conducts himself,” Meyer continued. As an example, he recalls that Blakeman would have his crewmates put their hands on the football together before they worked each game with the closing comment, “Be a man and be a professional.”

Sports Junkie

Blakeman’s love of sports started it all. He was playing everything in season — football, basketball, track, baseball, golf — as he grew up in Norfolk, Neb. Football became his focus in high school. He went to Norfolk High, eventually becoming the starting quarterback and earning a scholarship to the University of Nebraska.


In his playing days, Blakeman started two games at quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.


The irony of his high school career, according to Blakeman, is if he’d had to choose a sport in ninth grade, he would have chosen basketball.

In fall 1983, Blakeman enrolled at Nebraska as a scholarship quarterback, along with three other players at that position. “From Day One, I knew that I’d have to bust my tail — work hard, study hard, commit to do my best,” Blakeman said. “There was extreme competition from the start of fall camp until the end of my college playing days. You either embraced the work ethic or walked away.”

Blakeman found out some things about himself during his time at Nebraska — about his competitive instincts and his willingness to do whatever it took to get on the playing field; qualities that would bode well later in life.

“I fought through a lot of challenges, but it built character,” he said. “Coach (Tom) Osborne helped me in many ways with life lessons, and I can’t give him enough thanks and credit.” As a three-year letterman, Blakeman backed up Steve Taylor during his last two years. Blakeman started two games — one his senior year and one his junior year. The Huskers won both games. Blakeman threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in the 1986 game against Kansas.

“I remember Coach Osborne looking me in the eyes and saying, ‘You’re my starting quarterback this weekend,’” Blakeman recalled. “That was my goal and it became a significant personal achievement for me.”

Tim Millis, the former coordinator of officials in the Big 12 Conference, first met Blakeman on the field when Millis was an official and Blakeman was the backup quarterback. He saw very quickly what made Blakeman special.

“As football officials, we typically talk to the quarterbacks on offense and linebackers on defense,” Millis said. “Clete was (the backup) quarterback for Nebraska in the 1987 Sugar Bowl and at the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. Coincidentally, I worked both those games. You could see his personality and heart were bigger than his size. His teammates looked up to him.”

Millis, who went on to officiate in the NFL, watched Blakeman officiate at the small college level, and ultimately hired him into the Big 12.

“As a quarterback, Clete delivered, and you could recognize those leadership qualities,” Millis said. “He’s never cocky, makes the hard decisions and lets you know. People see and believe in him.”

Hanging Out With Dad

Blakeman said he has his dad, Glen Blakeman, who died last summer just before his 83rd birthday, to thank for starting him in officiating. While it wasn’t an automatic connection for Blakeman, he remembers the little things he picked up from his dad along the way.


Clete had the opportunity to officiate with his father, the late Glen Blakeman.


Glen officiated football and basketball, and was well-known and well-respected throughout northeast Nebraska. When Clete was too young to travel with his father, a weekly ritual developed between the two. Clete became his father’s shoe-shiner. Upon his late-night return home, Glen would set his officiating shoes outside Clete’s door for him to clean and shine the next morning. It was a detail that Clete picked up on — keeping your shoes clean and in good shape was important to how you looked and came across on the field.

“Sometimes they would be all coated with mud and I’d have to bang them around in the tub to get them clean enough to polish. He never paid me though,” Blakeman laughed.

“Officiating was definitely part of our world together,” he continued. “He officiated during the fall and winter and he would drag me along to games each week. It was a big part of my life. It was cool to hang out with my dad and be part of the environment. I’d get to ride along with the guys in the car, and just enjoyed being there. I felt like part of the crew.”

The time spent around other officials slowly rubbed off on Clete, as he developed a great appreciation for the rules and a respect for the game. But he wasn’t thinking about being an official when he was still playing.


It was after he finished college and was about to begin law school in fall 1988 that Glen suggested that Clete join his football crew. “It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my dad and expand on my experiences as a kid,” Blakeman said. “The transition was unique. I didn’t know officiating would develop into a true love.”

On Friday afternoons, after Clete was done with law school classes, he would head off from Lincoln to some of the smaller towns in the northeast part of the state — Stanton, Columbus, Fremont, Battle Creek. The team environment felt right to him. Going from an offensive football unit with 10 teammates on the field to another team with three or four officials learning together, developing and with a passion for executing well was something he found appealing. And that has continued.

The Feeling of Arriving

Blakeman does not spend a lot of time reminiscing about games and plays. He enjoys them all and gets something special out of each contest.

Still, he remembers his very first season of officiating with his dad at Seacrest Field in Lincoln. “Wow, this is the big time,” he thought. It was a Class A (largest classification) football game and he felt the rush and adrenaline just like he does today in the NFL.

He went on to work small college football after his first year, officiating NAIA Division II games at such schools as Dana, Doane, Hastings, Concordia and Nebraska Wesleyan. That was his training ground for picking up the feel for college rules. “It was very competitive football,” he remembered.

From there, he gained exposure with several Big 8 (currently Big 12) officials, including Scott Koch, Tom Walker, Scott Gaines, Frank Gaines and Paul Brown. “They’re all great guys who are incredibly dedicated to the profession,” he said.

He began going to higher level meetings, expanding his knowledge of college rules. By then he’d worked four years with his dad, who was retiring from football officiating.

Millis brought Blakeman on board in the Big 12 at that time, and provided more structured evaluation and training.

“He elevated my progress immensely,” Blakeman said. “ I owe a lot to Tim, and had the pleasure to work for him for five years and then with Walt Anderson (current Big 12 coordinator and NFL referee) for two more years after that.

“I was fortunate to be able to work two Big 12 championship games during my years in the conference.”

At each step along the way, Blakeman was thinking about what might come next. So when he reached the Big 12, he began considering what it would take to make it to the NFL.

He worked three years in NFL Europe, then the training ground to get to the NFL, from 2004-06. In 2008 Mike Pereira, then vice president of NFL officiating, hired him into the NFL.

The NFL is “college multiplied by 100,” Blakeman said of the move up to the pros.

“The team concept is the most important thing we have as a crew,” Blakeman said. “It’s not about me. I’m the referee, but the team would be worse if I was just thinking about me. There are nine of us working together on every game — seven on the field and two in replay. Everyone of us has to buy in. Otherwise we fail together.”

Blakeman realizes he must see his crewmates’ strengths and weaknesses. “We all help and support each other,” he said. “It starts with me looking in the mirror and recognizing that I need to lead not only by words but by example, that I need to prepare to perform at the highest level each week. I have extremely high expectations for both myself and our crew. In the end, it’s about how we perform our jobs for those three hours on Sunday. I’m a big advocate of the philosophy that the better we prepare, the better we perform.”

Quiet, Confident Leader

Millis said that Blakeman’s leadership skills played a huge part in his being named a referee after just two years in the league.

“He’s a quiet, confident leader,” Millis said. “He has a unique personality. He’s not a showoff or know-it-all. Some guys in his position get ornery. He’s the opposite.”

Terrence Miles worked with Blakeman in the Big 12, entered the NFL in 2008, along with Blakeman, and worked on his crew from 2010-13. He cited Blakeman’s even-keeled nature as one of his key leadership skills. One of Blakeman’s pet phrases is, “We’ll get it worked out.”

“You know he’s in charge, but he’s not arrogant,” Miles said. “I don’t know how he combines the two qualities, but he does it.

“He deferred to the senior guys on the crew when he started as an NFL referee, learning what he could from each one of them,” Miles continued. “He’s organized about everything, from expenses to discussing issues that other crews around the league are having. He’s on top of all that stuff.

“We had a good group our first year, but there was still a learning curve. If there was a better way to do something, Clete would say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ In his second year, Clete got beat up on his ratings, but you’d never know it. It never affected how he dealt with our crew or the games.”

Meyer agrees. “He’s one of the few guys who, regardless of the game, is the same guy every week,” Meyer said. “He has such a positive outlook; honest and direct. He is what he is.”

Even after a tough game, Meyer said Blakeman retains his disposition, leaving the bad things behind, and getting onto the next game. “He looks at what’s in it for ‘us’ not for ‘him,’ without yelling, screaming or calling you out.”

The crew chief in the NFL has to be the go-to guy and set the tone. “We need more guys like Clete with his type of disposition,” Meyer continued. “I haven’t met an official who wouldn’t want to be on Clete’s crew.”

Family Ties

That genuineness is something his wife Katie appreciates as well. When they met, Katie was immediately struck by how Clete treated others.

“I met this nice guy. He would treat Tom Osborne the same as the waitress serving us dinner. I was so attracted to that,” said Katie, who grew up on a farm in Lindsay, Neb.

Clete remembers their paths initially crossing at a Starbucks in 2007, and being struck by her beauty. “We talked for maybe 20 minutes,” he said. “She was very pretty, and I found out quickly she was beautiful inside and out. She’s smart and grounded.”

In addition to her job with a pharmaceutical company, Katie runs the household. “We’re a good pair. We complement each other well. It’s a natural relationship,” Clete observed.

The Blakemans were married in July 3, 2010, and have two children: three-year-old Maeve and one-year-old Hudson.


The Blakeman family: Katie, Maeve, Hudson and Clete.


In addition to his passion and love of family and football, Blakeman has a law career. He works as a personal injury attorney for Carlson & Burnett in Omaha. So he has to find the right time to review video, analyze plays, study for upcoming games and communicate with his crew in a way that seamlessly integrates into his family and business life.

“He studies rules and watches game film in his spare time, usually after the kids are put to bed, and finds a good balance,” Katie said.

Katie believes a large part of Blakeman’s success in all his endeavors is from his innate personality and how he treats others. “A lot of his success comes from his humbleness,” Katie said. “I thought he might be arrogant, but found he has good morals, values and principles, and our friendship moved onto a relationship. Church and God are important in both our lives, and Clete also isn’t afraid to show his emotions.

“People who meet him find out what a good guy he is,” she continued, “as well as a husband and father.

“Fundamentally, he’s a happy person. It’s that simple. He’s a ‘glass-half-full’ guy. He treats everyone with respect and he makes those around him feel important. People want to be around him. If he has something bad happen in a game or at work, he doesn’t bring it home with him.”

But he does involve his family in his officiating. Last spring he brought his wife and kids to the NFL Referee Association meeting. “(Officials have) become our extended family. So many great people are involved in NFL officiating,” Katie said.

“I get a kick out of watching Clete parent,” Meyer said. “His demeanor with them is the same he displays on the field.”

Professional Through and Through

Two stories sum up who Blakeman is, Miles said.

Typically, there is one locker room attendant for the NFL officiating crew at each stadium and the crew pays him for his help. In Green Bay there are two attendants, a father-son team, and the son is challenged. Blakeman suggested his crew pay both.

“It was cool to see their reaction,” Miles said. “We put the money in envelopes like we usually do, and you should have seen their faces light up when they opened them.”

Miles’ father died three years ago. The following year, crewmate Tony Veteri’s father also died.

“Clete called my wife to get some photos of my dad,” Miles recalled. “We were at Green Bay and he had them put the pictures of me and my dad up on the (Jumbotron). I got all teared up but that was the best motivator.

“Clete dedicated the season to my dad, then he did the same thing with Tony’s father,” Miles explained. “Before we would walk out of the tunnel on Sunday, Clete would tell the crew, ‘Be a man and be professional. Your dads are watching over us.’ It fired me and Tony up.”

Whether it’s meeting with the television network personnel or working with the technician who helps him test his microphone before the game, people agree that when Clete Blakeman shows up, others “light up.”

“There’s a sense of relief that, ‘Clete’s here,’” Miles said.

Dave Simon officiated basketball for 18 years, 12 at the collegiate level. He has written for Referee for 25 years, and currently lives in Grapevine, Texas.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 02/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Tournament Tested

As told to Paul Hamann


How do you get to the postseason? What skills are important when doing those big games? How do you stay at the top when you’ve arrived? We asked some postseason top guns to weigh in.

What is your BEST ADVICE for an official at any level trying to be selected to the postseason?

HIGGINS: Find a mentor. Find somebody you can trust who has been there. Try to pick his brain and follow his footsteps. I’ve got a couple of guys who talk to me a lot. They’re young guys, and one of them has gone to the postseason the last two years.

PAGANELLI: You need to have a mentor, someone who can look at your performance and give you feedback, both negative and positive. That’s the only way you’re going to get better.

KANTNER: Do due diligence throughout the regular season. Have great play-calling accuracy, complete your homework on and off the court, and prepare yourself accordingly.

BARRETT: You should never expect it. It’s a privilege to work it. When you don’t get the postseason, you have a tendency to say, “OK, I didn’t have a successful season.” I hope guys go away from that, because only so many people can get to the postseason. Just because you didn’t get (to the postseason), that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a great season.

MAGWIRE: Focus on the things you can control. Work on mastering the rules and stay focused on mechanics until those become second nature.

How do you PREPARE for working the postseason?

HIGGINS: Just read the rulebook again to be sure that when you go to the NCAA tournament that you don’t screw anything up in front of God and everybody. 

CULL: For the most part I try not to do anything different. Try not to do anything special because now you’re going to be out of your comfort zone — out of your normal routine.

PAGANELLI: You don’t want to change anything that you’ve done all year long that got you to the postseason. 

KANTNER: If it’s your first time, ask for advice. I had great mentorship when I had my first postseason assignment, and I am grateful. And when you ask people, listen to them. 

DITTMAR: With the postseason, you have a little bit more opportunity to research more on the teams. Because in the middle of the season, you’ve got all kinds of games going, but in the postseason, you might be doing one game the whole week. Another thing that I think you need to consider is making sure that you’re still fresh.

BARRETT: The only thing I’ll really do is sometimes, at the end of the season if we are working an LCS and there’s time during the first round, I’ll go home and I’ll try to get some rest so that I’m fresh when I get out there. 

What ADJUSTMENTS are needed from the regular season to the postseason? Do you call a postseason game any differently between the lines?

MAGWIRE: I try not to make adjustments between the regular season and the postseason. I try to work every game at every level as if it were a championship game. That includes my mental approach to each game. If I don’t work the entire season as if it were the postseason, I won’t be ready for the postseason when it comes.

BARRETT: As far as balls/strikes and safes/outs, we’re able to do things the same every time. The difference is you want to be a little more understanding that there’s more at stake. Players are going to be emotional. You might have to be a little more understanding of that, but you certainly don’t want to get run over. If they deserve to be ejected, they’ve got to be ejected.

KANTNER: You will have to understand that the impact of your calls will have a little more gravity in the postseason than in the regular season.

PAGANELLI: I think you can’t change your philosophy of what you’ve been calling, because teams have been accustomed to how you’ve been calling it all year long. If you start changing what you’re going to call and what you’re going to let go, teams get confused. That’s where the consistency really comes into play.

HIGGINS: I’ve had my bosses say: “There’s a reason why you got here. Just referee it exactly how you did during the season and everything will be fine.” That’s how I do it.

CULL: If I try to change it too much, then I’m changing what I’ve done the entire season to earn me that spot. If I see a violation or a foul, then I’ll make a call. If I’m not 100 percent sure, I will err on the side of allowing the players and the teams to make the determination of the outcome of that particular rally.

DITTMAR: They’re on TV, they’re not trying to be stupid, and they’re the best players in the country, so you may get an opportunity where you don’t have to call as much. But it’s not something you go into and say you’re going to call less. In soccer, if you do that, you’re going to get yourself into a lot of trouble.

CULL: The most important thing, I think, is to eliminate as many variables as possible where things can go wrong. So have really good communication with your crew. Where is everyone going to meet? Does everyone have everyone’s cell phone numbers? That way you don’t have to worry about the small stuff and can just worry about the match.

DITTMAR: Outside the lines? That’s where you have to pay a lot more attention. Are there TV requirements you have to deal with? Do you have to pay attention to where the emergency crews are coming in? There are a lot of extra things that come into the postseason that you don’t have to deal with in the regular season.

How do you handle the PRESSURE?

DITTMAR: I think most pressure is self-imposed. It’s like going to the airport. If I leave late, I’m under a lot of pressure to make that flight. But where did it start? With my lack of preparation. The best way to avoid pressure on the field is to control as much as you can before the match with your preparation and your knowledge.

MAGWIRE: When I’m focused on doing my job, the pressure seems to fade into the background.

BARRETT: I heard a quote from somebody talking about officiating: “The pressure is an honor.” I really like that. 

PAGANELLI: If you can’t handle pressure, you’re going to be out on a football field for three-and-a-half hours, and that will be the worst three-and-a-half hours of your life. You have to enjoy the moment, enjoy the experience. If you let the pressure get to you, that’s when you start to make mistakes.

HIGGINS: The people who move forward are the ones who maybe handle it better than the other guys. Make your call. You can’t do anything about it anyway. If you screw up on a play, you go back to zero and try to make the next play your best play.

DITTMAR: As an assistant referee sometimes you get three calls in a matter of a second or two. If you feel like you missed the first one, and you stay in the moment of the first one, you could miss two more. 

BARRETT: For me, coming at it as someone who has faith in God, I’m able to sit back and put it in His hands. At the end of the day, I work for an audience of one. As an official, there are going to be people who criticize your performance. You can’t please everyone. My goal is to honor God.


What have you LEARNED from working the postseason?

BARRETT: I’ve learned a lot about myself — that I can handle that kind of pressure on the biggest stage.

PAGANELLI: It’s commitment and dedication. You just can’t live on your last year’s performance. 

BARRETT: I’ve also learned that it’s not the be-all end-all of my life. I worked the plate in game three of the 2007 World Series. I remember walking off the field after the game in Colorado, thinking how I worked my whole life to get to this point. I didn’t know if the sky was going to open, but it was business as usual. The 2011 World Series was great: seven games, one of the great World Series in our time. I flew home the next day and I was picking up dog poop in the backyard. It doesn’t change your life. It doesn’t change who you are as a person, or who you are as an official.

What are the RISKS for an official’s career working the big, high-profile games?

DITTMAR: We all want the big games, and it comes with a lot of responsibility. And part of that responsibility could mean that we don’t do something right, and we get embarrassed.

PAGANELLI:  There’s a risk that you could make a call that is not the call that you want that could cost a team. That’s obviously magnified when you get into the postseason or a Super Bowl, but you can’t go into a game thinking that way. 

HIGGINS: There are risks every single night. You screw up two or three nights in a row and they think you’ve lost it.

KANTNER: You do a national championship game or you do a Final Four, and they come into the locker room and say, “By the way, we’ve got 16 cameras today.” There’s a risk of exposure. There’s a risk of your missed call being shown 16 different ways. But if you’re afraid to take that risk, then you don’t work the big games. 

MAGWIRE: If a call or situation gets mishandled, it can hurt you. On the other hand, if the crew handles the game seamlessly, that can be a benefit as well.

KANTNER: What’s your risk? That you’re really not that good? Then you’ll find out. You won’t get another playoff game. That’s your risk. If you don’t want that risk, then goodness gracious, you’re not a competitor. I can’t even imagine that mind-set.


Is your primary MOTIVATION at the beginning of the season to work the postseason or does something else drive you?

DITTMAR:  I really don’t think about the NCAA until we get into tournament time. My primary motivation is I love being out on the field. I tell people this is therapy for me. Everybody needs a disengagement from life sometimes, and for me, officiating is that.

PAGANELLI: Every year, I want to work the highest level. Am I disappointed if I don’t make it? No, because things have to bounce right for you, and when you’re working 19 games in the NFL, not every year is going to be a great year. But I think that at the start of the season you’ve got to set goals, and those goals should be a Super Bowl or a championship, whatever you may be eligible for.

BARRETT: You can’t control who selects you, and so you have to find satisfaction in knowing that you did the best job you could. Also, be honest with yourself: maybe you didn’t deserve the playoffs. You could say, “What can I do to improve as an official so that next year I can get rewarded with the postseason?” 

CULL: I just love volleyball. I love officiating. It’s an honor to do the playoffs, but I never say, “I have to do the playoffs.”

KANTNER: You set down goals every season, but my goal every game is to service that game as well as I can, and hopefully I get to the postseason. Obviously I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get a postseason assignment, but I will work toward that end and hopefully my work speaks for itself.

MAGWIRE: I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with some of the best umpires in the country and umpire games with some of the best teams in the country doing something I truly love at the highest level. Tell me that’s not more than enough motivation.

When you are working the postseason, you are probably working with some of the TOP OFFICIALS. Is your job easier as a result?

KANTNER: It could go either way. It depends on your crew chemistry. In the postseason, you should have better performances because those are people who have also earned a spot to be there.

DITTMAR: Yes. Typically, everyone’s got a lot more experience, so there’s less of the jitters. Also, typically you don’t have to worry about issues of professionalism, like getting there on time, and being prepared. The people that don’t do those things get weeded out.

BARRETT: I’ve worked with some great crew chiefs: Ed Montague, Steve Rippley, Randy Marsh, Jerry Crawford … I got to work playoff games with them. I never got to work with them during the regular season, but I got to during the playoffs. I was able to pick their brains after the games. After the game you talk and you’re able to learn from them and draw on their experiences.  

HIGGINS: I think it is, yes. You’re there because you referee the same way as those guys do. You don’t have to worry about that third on the floor.

Are you COACHABLE or do you do most of the coaching when you reach those games?

BARRETT: As I become a playoff veteran, I think that I’m in the tweener spot where I’m both coachable and doing the coaching, working with guys who get to the playoffs for the first time.

DITTMAR: If you’re not coachable, you’re not going to stay. That’s when, to you, you’re bigger than the game. I believe in all sports, that if you have that kind of attitude, the game has a way of kicking your butt. There’s a fluky play that never happens, if you have that attitude that you know it all.

HIGGINS: If I’m the referee in the game, I always have everybody interject in the pregame, especially over rules. There’s a handful of rules that people interpret different ways, and we like to make sure we’re all on the same page. I try to make everybody feel comfortable in the pregame. You take your area and I take my area, and everything should go OK. It’s a team game.

KANTNER: Sometimes in a first-round playoff game, I might have younger officials with me, and part of that assignment might be to provide good strong leadership for them. So I might do some more coaching in that game. Working with a more seasoned veteran, I might need to be more coachable. I think it will vary from game to game.

CULL: In the post-match I’d like to think I’m coachable. If I see a play one way and my partner sees it differently, I think it’s good dialogue.

How do you train yourself to STAY MOTIVATED after you’ve reached a postseason level? How do you avoid a sense of entitlement?

PAGANELLI: It’s the pride.

HIGGINS: I think you want to get back there again. It’s so exhilarating and exciting. You ask yourself, am I really going to do this game in front of 75,000 people with 80 million watching on television?

DITTMAR: You always want to go back. The second honeymoon is so much better! You want to experience the parts that you didn’t realize that you were supposed to experience.

KANTNER: When you feel entitled, if you make one bonehead call, you will be humbled quickly, believe me. Officiating is something where there is no entitlement. Once you have that perfect game, you need to retire right then and there.

BARRETT: The minute you think you’ve got this job figured out, it’ll turn around and bite you. There’s no way that a guy can get cocky, because the minute that he does, he’s going to get knocked down. 

DITTMAR: I see that a lot with the younger kids nowadays. It’s a totally different world of entitlement. Always understand and remember that you did not get any assignment by yourself. 

CULL: That would be one of the worst things if you feel entitled: “Hey, I’ve made it … I can mail it in now.” But you have to always strive to be a better official because each year there’s going to be new kids playing. 

MAGWIRE: I think you have to accept that there are no guarantees. As hard as you work to be the best at what you do, someone else is working just as hard and wants the same thing you do.

BARRETT: This is not a false sense of modesty that I’m spewing out. If I don’t get (a playoff assignment) this year, but a guy who hasn’t had one before does, I’m going to be happy for him. I’m not going to go home and feel sorry for myself.

What is your most MEMORABLE postseason moment?

MAGWIRE: Mine came in about the 12th inning of my 15-inning game at the 2013 Women’s College World Series. It struck me what a battle that game was. I felt privileged to be a part of a truly great game in a great venue, and I realized that the most important thing for me to do was to simply call the game and then stay out of the way.

CULL: It’s such a unique honor to be on the floor for the finals. I got to work with Brian Hemelgarn (Referee volleyball coordinator). It was a great match: It went five. Brian and I had really good communication on the court, and the players determined the outcome of that match.

KANTNER: I’m not one to revel in the past, but I still remember my first Final Four because my high school basketball coach, who is one of the most influential people in my life, said, “When you get to the Final Four, I will be there.” So I remember calling her in 1992 and saying, “OK, Coach … put your money where your mouth is!” She had to fly from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to be there. That was a wonderful moment. 

PAGANELLI: Super Bowl XLI. That was my second Super Bowl. I was able to work it with my older brother Perry. We were the first brother combination that had ever worked a Super Bowl. That stands out as being pretty much the highlight of my career. All our families were there: my dad, who has obviously been our mentor (he has three sons who are NFL officials), my wife, my children and my mother. Not only was it a special moment for Perry and me, it was a special moment for our families.

HIGGINS: The semifinal in Indianapolis that my father got to go to three years ago before he passed away … my dad got to go, and my wife, and all of my kids. My dad was a basketball coach and an athletic director. He was very proud, obviously, that I got to go to the Final Four. It was a special feeling, and the following year he passed away.

Do you have a favorite MEMENTO from one of your postseason games?

CULL: The crew who did setup every day gave the referees and the line judges a sport court tile.  Everyone signed it and it was kind of cool.

BARRETT: I’ve got two World Series rings, which is pretty cool, and for each of them I have a ball that was in my ball bag at the time.

MAGWIRE: A friend of mine sent me a picture of the last pitch — a called strike three — of this year’s Women’s College World Series. I’m going to hang that one on my wall.

DITTMAR: I took the patch from my first Final Four game and I put it in a frame with a thank you letter. I gave it to Bob Cummings, my mentor who got me started in college soccer back in 1989.

PAGANELLI: Probably the biggest things I have are the Super Bowl footballs that are signed by the officials. That seems like it’s old news now. It’s time to go out and try to get another championship or another Super Bowl.

Paul Hamann has officiated high school basketball since 1996. He is a high school teacher who lives in Vancouver, Wash. 

Feature – Solid Stance – Gerry Davis Profile

(This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Referee Magazine.)

MLB Umpire Gerry Davis is known for his Plate stance, his officiating gear business and his professionalism ­­— and he’s worked the most postseason games of any current umpire.

By John Oehser

The honor hardly could be more fitting.

OK, perhaps having a behind-the-plate stance named after you — as Gerry Davis does — isn’t technically an honor. But it certainly speaks volumes about one of Major League Baseball’s most tenured, respected and decorated umpires.

To have a technique you designed named after you …

To know you designed that technique because you believe it’s the right way to do things …

To know that fundamental — and the Gerry Davis “Lockbox” stance indeed has become a fundamental — says a lot about your approach to your profession …

Put those things together and you have something fitting, something lasting. And to someone as dedicated to his profession as Davis is to umpiring, it’s not only fitting, it’s humbling and a whole lot more.

“It’s rewarding,” Davis said. “I’m very proud of it.”

This is Gerry Davis’ umpiring story, and the story isn’t just about a stance. It’s a story about achievement, consistency and commitment. It’s also a story of longevity, but more than anything, it’s a story of a guy who found the career he loved pretty much by chance, then turned it into a more successful career on and off the field than he ever dreamed possible.

Davis, 62, at his core is an umpire’s umpire and all that implies.

“He’s the consummate professional,” said MLB umpire Phil Cuzzi, a longtime member of Davis’ crew.

He’s about loyalty, and doing his job in a calm way that calms others. He’s about doing things the same way, every day.

“He takes a lot of pride in everything he does and everything his business does,” said Pat Miles, a longtime football and basketball official who worked at Appleton, Wis., based Gerry Davis Sports for nearly a decade.
He’s about the sport, first and foremost.

“He loves what he does and he’s good at it,” longtime MLB umpire Greg Gibson said. “He’s a teacher. He’s a mentor. He’s everything you’re looking for. I guess he’d be the poster boy for what a major league umpire should be.”

He’s MLB’s longest-tenured crew chief, and as MLB Director of Umpire Administration Matt McKendry said, he’s a “stabilizing force, on the field and off.”

“If we had 76 people with Gerry Davis’ skills and his abilities, we would be a very good staff,” McKendry said.

All of those things are about more than a stance — and as for that stance, we’ll get to it. Soon. Because the stance is absolutely and fittingly part of the story. It’s just not the whole story.

• • •

Before we cover stance, we’ll cover resume, and before the resume, we must explore his beginnings. Because while Davis’ career is one of accomplishment, he didn’t start out dreaming of an umpiring career.

In the mid-1970s, as Davis’ best friend tells it, Davis wasn’t dreaming of much of anything. At least not seriously. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just wasn’t a particularly motivated guy. And while he and his buddies were still playing semipro baseball in St. Louis in the mid-’70s, Davis never talked about umpiring. So it surprised Don Dill when Davis told people he was heading to umpire school.

“He never really talked about it,” said Dill, Davis’ best friend since age nine.

He never much thought about it, either. Not until 1975. The manager of Davis’ semipro team at the time was responsible for providing one of two umpires for each game. When Davis injured his arm, his manager found a way to save $8 to $10 a game.

“The manager told me, ‘You’re going to be the umpire,” Davis said.

After Davis umpired a couple of games, his manager told him something else: “You should think about going to umpire school.”

Davis recalled the story with a laugh. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as umpire school,” he said. “I grew up like every red-blooded American kid wanting to be a baseball player.”

Davis, working at Thurmer’s Tavern in St. Louis, saw a Sporting News ad for the Al Somers Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Fla. Davis mentioned the ad to his manager, who sent for the application. Davis applied, was accepted and entered Somers’ school in 1976, a year before Harry Wendelstedt purchased the school.

“It came at a time in my life where I said, ‘Why not? I’m 22 years old,’’’ he said. “If I didn’t follow this, I didn’t want to have to look back and say, ‘What if?’’’

Davis took to umpiring. Fast. He graduated second in his class at Somers’ school, then worked the Midwest League in 1976-77 and the Eastern League in 1978. He worked the Florida Instructional League in 1977-78 and the Puerto Rico Winter League in 1979 while working the American Association from 1978-82. He was in MLB by 1984.

“At 18 or 19, he had no direction,” Dill said with a laugh. “But he was never afraid of a challenge and never afraid to try something. Out of the clear blue, he decided he was going down there. He decided he wanted to do it. He had played ball all his life, so it all went hand in hand and it turned out to be perfect.”

Davis said he doesn’t know where life would have led had he not applied to the school, but he knows his message when he tells young umpires his story.

“I tell them, ‘Follow those dreams, because you don’t want to look back and be sorry you didn’t take the chance,’’’ Davis said.





(From top) Gerry Davis uses his hands-on-knees stance during a Cubs-Giants game in 2013. Davis visits a patient at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif., in 2012 for the Umps Care charity. Davis works the NLCS in 2014.
– Photos By Bill Nichols, John Cordes –

• • •

Now, we can talk resume. That’s fun when you’re talking about Davis, because his resume moves quickly past impressive and into staggering:

  • Twenty-one postseasons, including the last 17 in succession.
  • Five World Series.
  • Ten League Championship Series.
  • Eleven League Division Series.
  • Four All-Star games.

If that sounds impressive, it’s because it is impressive. Add up the number of games in each series and it’s not surprising it totals a record for postseason games umpired — 128. Not surprising to anyone but Davis, anyway.

“It’s a little mind-boggling,” he said. “The postseason events are really what I’m most proud of. We’ve had, I’d say, seven or eight different regimes since I’ve been involved. For all of them to have the confidence in me to work postseason, it’s very rewarding.”

Cuzzi called the postseason the “litmus test,” adding, “If it was people playing favorites, it wouldn’t mean as much.

“He’s so respected not only by the league office, but the teams,” Cuzzi said.

You don’t fluke into respect. Is Davis good fundamentally? Can he call balls, strikes, safes and outs? No doubt. MLB umpires are the best of the best, and therefore, make the difficult look easy. Davis? “He makes it look really easy,” Gibson said.

But in umpiring, there’s calling the game, then there’s controlling the game — and baseball people will tell you if Davis makes the first look easy, he makes the second look doubly so.

“Things get heated between the lines,” McKendry said. “You’re supposed to be able to settle that down whenever you can. Gerry has an innate ability to do that. That calming approach he takes along with the respect clubs have for him helps him control volatile situations when they arise.

“He’s a calming influence. He’s well-respected by the clubs and his peers. He is an upstanding member of our group and we’re glad to have him.”

To hear Gibson tell it, to work a game with Davis is not only to work a game with an umpire at the height of his onfield skill, but also in control of his crew. It’s also to work a game in which the umpires are subjected to strikingly little yelling.

“They know him and respect him enough to know we’re just not going to listen to it,” Gibson said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements. He’ll let people have their say, but when that’s it, that’s it. They know that. They know what to expect as far as his ability.”

We’ve addressed the resume, the respect. What we haven’t covered are the whys and hows behind the respect. His fellow umpires say it’s about his demeanor and calmness.

Davis said his demeanor didn’t come immediately or naturally.

“It came over time,” he said with a laugh. “I was a little bit of a redass when I first started. I did my share of yelling and had my share of nose-to-nose arguments, but if you talk to players and managers now, most would say if you approach me in a professional manner, that’s the way you’ll be treated.”

The nose-to-nose stuff works for some umpires. As for Davis, he doesn’t see the job about showmanship or flash, which is why polls outlining the best/worst/favorite/least-favorite MLB umpires of players, coaches and fans rarely include Davis’ name.

That’s OK with Davis, and when he talks to people about best- and worst-umpire lists, his attitude is pretty clear.

“He says, ‘You don’t want to be on either one,’’’ Miles said.


Consistency. Talk to Davis about his approach to umpiring, you hear it. Talk to him a while longer, you hear it a lot.


So, if lists are what Davis doesn’t want to be on, and arguments are what he doesn’t want to be involved in, what does Davis want? How does he want to be known? Postseason appearances are one way, and the stance is another, of course. But mostly, it’s about a word.

“I think I’m really consistent,” he said.

Consistency. Talk to Davis about his approach to umpiring, you hear it. Talk to him a while longer, you hear it a lot.

“When people talk about umpires, they think about consistency in balls and strikes and consistently doing a good job with that,” Davis said. “But I think it’s more important to be consistent with your demeanor. I don’t get overly excited when things call for that. I think I’m very level-headed and handle situations well, which is one of the major attributes an umpire has to have.”

Consistency. Calmness. Respect from peers, from players and coaches. A staggering resume. As if those weren’t enough to leave a lasting impression on a sport and a profession, consider another part of Davis’ resume.

Davis has mentored many younger umpires, including call-ups from Triple A. Brian Knight, Quinn Wolcott, Todd Tichenor, Will Little — each is a current MLB umpire who worked on Davis’ crew before his full-time hire.

“He takes just as much pride for his crewmates to be selected for the postseason as the pride he takes in himself being selected,” Cuzzi said.

McKendry said Davis’ success with young umpires is no fluke, stemming from Davis’ approach of protecting them when they need protection and knowing when to let them “handle their own business.”

“He has a good sense for those two parts,” McKendry said. “He makes an effort to teach and lead by example.”
Gibson said life for a young umpire under Davis is rewarding. “He has a different way of teaching,” Gibson said. “Sometimes he’ll let you fall on your face and say, ‘OK, do you want to talk about it?’ But he has a way of going about his business that everybody respects. He’s not perfect by any means, but everybody knows he’s working hard toward it. And he does work hard at it.

“He leads by example. You know what to expect when you work for him. You have a good time working with him and if you don’t have a good time working for him, it’s your fault,” Gibson said.

It could be said that Davis’ work with younger umpires is leaving a legacy. While Davis is hesitant to say it that way, he said without question it’s rewarding.

“That’s the interesting thing about this profession,” Davis said. “A lot of people who have never umpired talk about how thankless the job is. That’s not really true. There are a lot of things that happen that make you proud to be an umpire.”

• • •

The legacy? The consistency? All of that also is notable when telling Davis’ story.

Something else notable is that about 15 years into his MLB career, these traits — the caring about the profession, the desire to make things better, the attention to detail, the doing things right — somehow all of that became the foundation for a profession outside his profession and intertwined with it all at the same time. And that’s pretty much how Gerry Davis Sports was born.

Davis wasn’t thrilled with plate shoes in the 1990s and had an idea for a shoe that combined safety and comfort. A market of 2,000-3,000 was too niche for larger shoe companies, so Davis approached Cove Shoe Company.


The Gerry Davis stance. the lockbox stance. the hands-on-knees stance … it is part of Davis’ legacy, but it didn’t come overnight.


Together, they designed and produced the shoe.

“They sold immediately,” Miles said, and as they did, umpires calling for shoes began asking for shin guards, chest protectors and indicators. At first, Davis didn’t have those items.

“I told them, ‘I’ll call you back,” Davis said with a laugh.

Nearly two decades later, Gerry Davis Sports supplies officials in baseball, basketball, football and softball, and Miles said the same traits that have made Davis successful on the field translate off of it.

“He believes you get one good first impression,” Miles said. “Gerry’s very much on board with that. He wants the umpire to look the best he can.”

So, now you know about Davis the businessman, and Davis the umpire. Davis the umpire is not only about doing things right, but giving back to the profession, which led to a whole lot of Gerry Davis Umpire Clinics for young umpires. And from those umpire clinics came … the stance.

The Gerry Davis Stance. The Lockbox Stance. The Hands-on-Knees Stance. It has been called all three. And it is part of Davis’ legacy, but it didn’t come overnight.

It evolved from a desire to be as consistent as possible, and it evolved from years of teaching clinics, from years of trying to help young umpires be as consistent as possible, Davis said.

“One of the things that’s most important (as an umpire) is you look at every pitch exactly the same way,” Davis said. “The way to do that is to have head height exactly the same every time. The only way you can ensure your head height is exactly the same is to have it locked in, by arms being locked on knees. That way, your head is the same height all the time. Your arms lock your head in a certain height. Those are the most important things to being a consistent plate umpire, so that’s what I started doing.”

Davis first worked with the technique in clinics, putting young umpires in their base stance, hands on knees. That achieved the objective of keeping the umpire’s head still, and also gave the umpire a consistent view from pitch to pitch. Davis soon began using it. Now, a quick Google search reveals pages upon pages of instruction, discussion and debate about the stance.

“It’s really rewarding when you hear from people who have adapted the stance, who didn’t use it before and now talk about how much more comfortable they are and how much they feel they have improved because of it,” Davis said.

Cuzzi said while its use is limited in MLB because umpires at that level grew up using a lower-crouched stance, the Davis stance has increased in popularity at other levels.

“His philosophy is very simple,” Cuzzi said. “You have to be very still in order to have the most accuracy when you call a pitch. When you talk about umpiring, you talk about consistency. To be consistent, you have to be consistent in what you’re doing to get to that point. He feels that by working with both hands on his knees, his head is at the same spot every time. We all have our own little ways, but the best way is the way that works for you. That certainly is the best way for him.”

And while the stance is best known for its effectiveness behind the plate, Cuzzi added, “If you watch him work the bases, you’ll see him do the same thing. Before he makes a call, whether it’s a play at first base, a steal at second or a trap in the outfield, he’s taking the same position: both hands on his knees, feet shoulder-length apart. It’s a very mechanical approach, but to show how consistent he is with that, he doesn’t just do it behind the plate, he does it on the bases as well.

“It may not be for everybody, but it certainly is for him,” Cuzzi said.

• • •

That’s the story of the stance, and while we’ve discussed it all — the stance, the resume, the approach, the beginnings — summing up a man so intertwined with the profession is still difficult. Maybe it’s a number we haven’t mentioned. Maybe it’s “40.”

Yes, 40. That’s the number of spring trainings for Davis.

“That’s a mindboggling number,” Davis said. “There are days, most of them actually, where it feels like 10 to 12 years ago since I started. It really has been a dream. To stay involved in a sport you love — I grew up listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck doing Cardinal games and fell in love with the sport — to be able to stay involved with it and have that be my career is really, really special.”

And as for the inevitable question: How long? When will one of MLB’s most respected presences no longer be present? Davis said he doesn’t know, but he believes he will know when he needs to know.

“It goes in cycles,” he said. “You get rejuvenated all the time. Once the holidays are over, you count the days to spring training. Obviously, when it’s September, I’m counting the days until the season is over. The thing that’s fortunate about a baseball season is there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re starting to drag, the light is the end of the season. When you’re ready to get started, the light is the beginning of the season.

“You’re constantly rejuvenated. I guess when that’s not the case, that’s when I’ll retire.”

And when that time comes, the numbers will matter less than the approach, and the stance will still be really meaningful and pretty cool. And what will matter most is he became successful by doing things his way — consistently — and by doing so, he became the poster boy for a profession he fell in love with sort of by chance.
And you can’t tell this story without mentioning that.

John Oehser is a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.

Inside Access on Gerry Davis

Favorite baseball city: St. Louis, his hometown. (Current residence: Huntington Beach, Calif.)

Best ballpark to work a game: “With so many new ones, they’re all very, very good. One of my least favorite ballparks is Wrigley Field. The dugouts are right on top of you and it’s not always good that we hear every comment in the dugout. The same reasons the fans love that ballpark are what make it difficult as an umpire’s ballpark.”

Best advice for a new official: “Work hard every day. Regardless of the score, regardless of the game, everyone sees you working. You have to work as hard in a freshman game as you would if you’re working in the seventh game of the World Series.”

Best baseball decision: “To go to umpire school in the first place. That would be what I would recommend to anyone who’s thinking about it. The worst thing to do is wonder, ‘What if?’ Because of the journey I’ve been on, the phrase is true: ‘If I can do it, anybody can do it.’”

Best part of job:
“The feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve done a good job. Just like you know when you’ve missed a call, you know when you’ve gotten it right.”

Worst part of job: “The travel. Without question. Because of replay, it’s 120 games a year now, which is enough. Still, it’s every three or four days in a different city.”

Biggest umpiring influence: “The three crew chiefs I’ve worked with: Bruce Froemming, Doug Harvey, Terry Tata.”

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Eras of Our ways

Expectations for officials are changing. The contrast between how we did things years ago and now is great. A more professional approach rules the day.


By Tim Sloan

Ron Luciano, who died in 1995, was one of the classic arbiters and characters of the 1970s in professional sports. An AL umpire for 11 years, he was one of the most visible and controversial men to ever work between the foul lines. Many of the things he did in his career would make an official cringe today, but they might help us appreciate how far we’ve come.

Luciano grew up in an apartment over his parents’ restaurant in Endicott, N.Y. He was a mediocre baseball player, so he turned to football because of his size and agility, winning a scholarship to Syracuse University. While working on a math degree, he garnered All-America honors as an offensive tackle, blocking for the great Jim Brown. After four years on the injury list in pro football, he retired and tried teaching but gave that up when he realized schools had lots of children.

With zero officiating experience, he went to Al Somers’ umpire school in 1964 and, remarkably, graduated and made it to the majors in just five seasons. Once in the bigs, he shredded the code of conduct for umpires but endeared himself to fans with his talkativeness, histrionics and charm.

Boy, has officiating changed in a generation.

One thing they might question today would be Luciano’s professionalism: He bought hot dogs during the game, flew paper airplanes and had a trademark of calling runners out-out-out by pretending to rapid-fire a gun; his record was 16 shots. On “very bad days, which followed soon after very good nights,” he was known to ask catchers he trusted to help him with balls and strikes by framing the pitches that were strikes. For balance, a fellow umpire once said, “Ronnie doesn’t so much show up for a game as he arrives. He walks through both dugouts saying hello to people, talking to the fans, getting everyone in a good mood for when the game starts.”

Tom Topping umpires NCAA softball and is also the sport’s coordinator in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He says officiating today is mostly about professionalism. “I think (professionalism) has gone up several notches,” says Topping. “You have to treat it more like a business now than as an avocation or a hobby, especially in softball.

“You have to be more consistent with other umpires and more prepared for games, especially from a fitness aspect where that wasn’t stressed as much before.”

Topping includes taking responsibility for one’s actions on and off the field as a big-ticket item. That’s because officials are more likely than they once were to be recognized in public because of media coverage: You can gain as much bad press for yourself and fellow officials in the corner bar as you can at third base, something Luciano didn’t seem to see as a big concern.

In comparison to hockey or basketball referees, some might not think of umpires as needing a high level of fitness. The speed of the athletes and the arduous schedules they now work change that. In fact, Luciano retired before the 1980 season when he realized, at 290 pounds, he just couldn’t get in position like he once could to get the right angle on a play — in a four-umpire system. He thought he would be cheating players if he stuck around.

It was ironic in a way because one of the things his supervisors liked was his “good size,” which translated into a license to command the proceedings. Other former umpires like Eric Gregg and John McSherry were legendary for their girth. Gregg was fined by baseball because of his weight and the issues it created in his work. McSherry, after several scares, died in 1996, on opening day in Cincinnati, because of complications of his poor fitness. Where size was once an asset in game control, today it’s a liability. Just ask John Adams.

Adams, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, has been assigning officials to the NCAA basketball tournament since 2008 and many would regard him as a groundbreaker in setting the specifications for the modern official.

“When I got the job in 2008,” explains Adams, “we evaluated every call by every official in the 2008 tournament. Consistently, there was a theme on missed calls of officials being out of position or not being in good position to see the play.

“One of the things we’ve worked on in our community is raising the level of officials’ fitness and our call accuracy percentage has gone up from 80 percent to as much as 90 percent in just five years.”

Adams says that some popular refereeing names don’t appear in the tournament because his evaluation is they can’t keep up with the pace of play. He has made it plain that fitness and mobility are his top two factors in deciding who will be selected to the tournament among those with suitable experience.

In Adams’ mind, the need for the stress on accuracy stems from the increased scrutiny of officials that the modern media has brought to bear. There was a time when a network basketball game might be covered by two or three cameras, supplemented by stop-action replay. Under those conditions, even if a broadcaster chose to replay a controversial call out of respect for the officials, the video evidence would often be inconclusive — remember Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception (or not?) Now that game coverage is more sophisticated and evidence of incorrect calls can circle the globe in seconds, people like Adams have gone all-in to find the best people to produce uncommon accuracy. And it starts with fitness.

A trademark of many officials in Luciano’s time was their ability to put a stamp on the game; to take charge and deal with issues before things could get ugly. Supposedly, former Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda was once a minor league pitcher. In winter league ball one season, he started chattering at the Cuban plate umpire over his concept of the strike zone. When the umpire had heard enough, he walked out to Lasorda, smiled and opened his coat to display perhaps the largest handgun Lasorda had ever seen. Their differences were immediately resolved: Effective, but not a career builder.

Management is far more important than bluster in running a game today. Luciano believed that any umpire who showed hesitation or any vulnerability was destined for a short career. They substituted iron-fisted debating skills for the lack of video evidence of their skills back then. Someone had to take charge and a lot of the officials of that era were well known for their aggressiveness. Name more than a few such personalities today. Marcia Alterman bets you can’t.

Alterman was a top-notch NCAA volleyball official before becoming the executive director of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO). In her tenure she’s seen the dynamic between first and second referee change considerably. When she started, it was like a master-slave relationship. The up official exerted a level of authority and decision-making extending to the shores of the seven seas; the down official hoped one day to be so revered.

“The culture on that getting-it-right thing really has changed,” Alterman says. “We’ve kind of mimicked other sports and gone away from ‘the first referee is always correct’ culture that we had for years.

“At the college level we’ve emphasized the get-it-right philosophy to the point where we’ve encouraged the second referee to step up when they have information to add to a play.”

In addition to creating fewer controversies in an average match, it’s created the opportunity for specialization. Volleyball officials frequently come as matched sets now, with a great play-caller up top and a great administrator and soother in front of the table, between the benches. That helps because she agrees with the others that coaches have become more fractious and difficult to deal with.

Luciano wrote that he only ever asked for help on one call in 10 years. He was blinded by the setting sun one evening on a pole-bender home run, guessed wrong and had an entire dugout disgorge on him. It was such an obvious and excusable error that the umpires’ normal phobia of appearing indecisive didn’t apply. Compare that to today.

“It’s not unusual to get together on a play maybe once a weekend,” says Mike Conlin, an NCAA baseball umpire who also supervises basketball officials for the Horizon League. “I don’t want to say it’s become the norm, but it is common.

“I think it’s happened because it’s a completely different mentality with baseball. … I think, over time, it’s become recognizable that there are pieces where it’s in everybody’s best interest to get things right.”

It isn’t that the quest for perfection has changed over the past couple of decades; it’s that people have learned to tunnel under the stone wall officials used to build around their fallibility. What’s crept in is that officials now accept that they’ll make mistakes because the games are so much more athletic. So, they’re now more willing to fess up and straighten things out, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

OK, maybe it is a sign of strength, but if these group discussions bring more focus on the officials, “Let the teams decide it,” is bound to echo from the rafters. Conlin says, “The players do decide the game. The officials in any sport work the game the way the rules committees want them officiated.”

We could probably name many people just in our own neighborhoods who would regard that as a truism. Yeah, more fouls create more whistles, but aren’t officials supposed to compensate by calling fewer fouls, or only calling them when the situation dictates? Conlin doesn’t think so.

“Twenty years ago, you could look at contact in a play and be comfortable not blowing your whistle,” Conlin said. “Now the coaches are concerned about the amount of contact in the game and it not being won and lost in the dressing room and things like that. So now, they’re asking us to call things closer.”

Conlin and Adams agree that it restores the balance of play, which had swung toward the defense under a softer approach. Adams believes the best officials call the same foul, the same way whether in the first or last minute of a game; there is no room for stepping in early and setting a standard for what they’re willing to call, then letting the players run amok for a while and then buttoning things down with the game on the line. From Adams’ viewpoint, the need for that consistency is another consequence of the increased physicality of sports today.

Adams says finding enough people who are unwavering in how they call a game is a challenge. While it might be a question of foul-calling consistency in basketball, it manifests itself differently in other sports.

Luciano made the point that the umpires of his era were defined by their strike zones. He described his as an oval. He had trouble bending down far enough to be sure on the low corners and he thought having the top of the strike zone at the armpits was only fair if the ball was out over the plate. In his time, it fell to the players to get used to each umpire’s tendencies. Today, that would be heresy. In softball, Topping says, the NCAA uses and distributes video of its umpires’ games to make sure the strike zone is the standard rectangle, no matter who has the plate. It’s important because batters are equally well-coached to know the strike zone and lay off the right pitches.

Doesn’t “calibrating” officials so much take some of the humanity out of it? Maybe, but the consensus is we should all get used to it.

Another place where uniformity has become a raison d’être is in the realm of safety, the big fish in any sport’s pond these days. Luciano despised the beanball, especially after he saw the career of Baltimore’s Paul Blair changed by a “purpose pitch” that fractured his skull. Billy Martin once declared to him while exchanging lineup cards before a doubleheader that his Rangers would pitch at the Brewers’ Robin Yount every time he came to bat — and then they did. Luciano threw Martin out of both games and then was almost fired for criticizing the light treatment he thought Martin got from the league. The way Luciano looked at it, if a pitcher could throw at a batter, why couldn’t the batter go out to settle things with the pitcher? He said there were even times he’d give the batter a head start when he charged the mound: Try to imagine reading that on the front page of the sports section today.

Safety in sports is no longer something to be settled at the whim of the participants. Neither can its requirements be sampled like a smorgasbord by the officials. Gary Whelchel knows that as well as anyone.

Whelchel is the commissioner of officials for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) and regards managing safety as paramount. He says it often involves administrating issues that have nothing to do with when the ball’s in play. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban football unless colleges found a solution to the deaths caused by head injuries. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if another president soon repeats that threat.

The AIA was one of the early experimenters with the football rule benching players whose helmet comes off during a play. The data Arizona produced was a big driver in the NFHS beefing up the rule in recent years, says Whelchel. The state has also adopted a concussion education program called the Barrow Brainbook: No player or official may participate in a contest unless they’ve passed the course with an 80 percent or better score. Safety protocols are taking no prisoners.

Being a safety-conscious official is as much about mediation and avoiding litigation as it is about determining forward progress. For Whelchel, that creates the secondary issue of finding the right observers to identify the right officials to work his state tournaments. The AIA has a policy that no official works state in consecutive years, so there’s a premium on having a good scouting program. Those observers, he explains, are often the retired, old-school people who are products of yesteryear’s successes. You have to do a lot to school them to select officials on the basis of the current requirements, which includes managing safety issues.

Whelchel says something else is the greatest threat to retaining officials. “The issue where we’re losing officials isn’t with their concerns over dealing with player safety,” he said. “Of more concern is the violence of the fans and those sorts of things that are occurring in society. They’re concerned whether somebody’s going to come up behind them or attack them out of the stands.”

Every jurisdiction, from the smallest middle school to the biggest college, has a policy of zero tolerance for intimidating referees. Nonetheless, the threat grows and the worst incidents have sometimes resulted in the deaths of officials. Whelchel says that the potential for abuse, plus an improving economy where potential officials have a better chance to find other work, has made it harder to find new officials. What did you experience the last time you were trying to replace a crewmate?

“In the past few years managers have started getting physical with umpires. A manager, or player, should never, ever, under any circumstances, touch an umpire. Throughout baseball history managers have been forbidden to touch the umpire and umpires have had a limited amount of trouble from fans. But if that barrier breaks down, and it seems to be cracked right now, umpires will start having real problems with the fans.” That wasn’t Whelchel speaking. Luciano wrote that in The Umpire Strikes Back, in 1982. Some things never change.

Do the level of preparation, scrutiny and the efforts at uniformity risk making officiating become sterile? Will there be any room for personality or flexibility? For that matter, is it even ethical to prepare for the tendencies of two teams anymore, lest we be biased?

Yes, absolutely yes. Luciano said he took up baseball “to avoid the blind dates arranged by his mother” but learned to love the game once he understood its nuances. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of the players in front of him and how it all played out made every game something new to look forward to. As the players left the field after one such game late in Luciano’s career, he wrote, “I wanted to tell them all, thanks for letting me be part of it.” Despite all the different things we’re being asked to do, it’s still about the game and we still get to enjoy it when the lights come up.

After retirement, Luciano worked briefly for NBC as a baseball color analyst. He then wrote five books about the human condition, thinly disguised as humorous reminiscences of his time in baseball. He summed it up this way: “When I started, (baseball) was played by nine tough competitors on grass, in graceful ball parks.

“But while I was trying to answer the daily Quiz-O-Gram on the exploding scoreboard, a revolution was taking place around me. By the time I was finished, there were 10 men on each side, the game was played indoors, on plastic, and I had to spend half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me.”

The San Diego Chicken and artificial turf didn’t change umpiring. They merely illustrate why officiating is changing. Sport is a cultural activity and a form of entertainment. How we play games changes at the will of the participants — the fans, teams and administrators. As officials, we’re there to help deliver what they want. If we have the same passion for the game, then changing our ways to accommodate is the way to go; if we can’t handle the change, we’re welcome to move on. Whatever the case, we are still part of the solution and our leaders want us to be the best we can be.

Situation normal.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Player Safety Mandate

We have a job to do. Are we doing it?


By Jeff Stern

Photos (and film clips) speak a thousand words.

A video montage created for a session at the NASO Sports Officiating Summit featured players being slammed, rammed, speared, elbowed, forearmed, run over, stomped on and pummeled. The audience, consisting of officiating leaders, reacted to each fresh collision with gasps, oohs and aahs.

Although hits to the head and the resultant concussions have been a particular point of emphasis in football recently, the video wasn’t confined to the gridiron. Athletes of all ages at all levels and several sports were depicted. And that means all officials need to be more diligent in keeping player safety Job One.

Discussing the issue at the Summit were Bob Colgate, NFHS director of sports and sports medicine; Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA and the former chief medical officer of the United States Tennis Association; Steve Shaw, Southeastern Conference coordinator of football officials; and Tom Minter, former risk manager for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

Jeff Triplette, NFL referee and CEO of ArbiterSports, served as moderator.

Because Colgate is also the liaison to the NFHS football and wrestling rules committees, he sees the issue of player safety from multiple angles.

“The game has changed,” Colgate acknowledged. “These athletes are getting bigger, faster, stronger. From the perspective of officiating, it’s got to change also. I think we’re behind on some things that we need to do. We can only do so much on the rules standpoint.”

Shaw pointed out that for 2013 the NCAA put more teeth into its rules regarding contact at or above the shoulders of an opponent — a foul called targeting — by adding automatic ejection to the penalty.

“That has created conversation like there has never been before about (player safety), and that’s really good because football is a great game,” Shaw said. “We need to keep it great, but we have certain hits that we need to take out of the game. As officials, we must have the courage to enforce the rules as they’re written. As coordinators, not only do we have to teach our officials how to enforce it, but we have to stand behind them when they do put their marker on the ground and support it.”

Although football has been in the spotlight recently, Colgate said it is far from a one-sport problem.

“Right behind football, we’ve got high incidence of injuries in soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, the list can go on and on,” he said. “Each one brings a different perspective from a safety or risk issue element that comes into play. From our National Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, we’re looking at all 17 sports we write playing rules on to address that.”

Even when the rules of a sport allow violent contact, there are issues. Hainline noted that he is also a former ringside physician for the New York State Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing.

“I had to stop,” Hainline said, “because I got so queasy sometimes when I saw an athlete’s head getting concussed. It was difficult to actually witness that. The rules of boxing are very clear. The goal is to create neurological injury. A knockout means that you are so concussed that you can’t even pick yourself up from the floor. And a technical knockout means that you’re so concussed that you no longer have the neuromuscular control to protect yourself. But in none of the sports in the NCAA and none of the sports that we’re talking about is the goal to create a concussion, and I think that’s what we have to make very clear.”

Basic skills and executing plays in the games have been replaced by a desire to win through attrition — being more physical than the opponent to the point of knocking him or her out of the game.

“There’s been this understanding that if you really want to create a fumble, if you want to make certain that you’re safe at home plate, if you want to make certain that you disable someone else so that you make the play, the most effective way to do that actually is to cause a concussion, to target the other player,” Hainline said. “We as a society understand that that’s no longer acceptable. There’s been a movement that I think has been spearheaded by the NFL. The media has picked up on it. A lot of other places have been a little slow to accept that there’s a serious problem when you create a head injury.”

Minter, a longtime multi-sport official as well as an administrator, agreed that rules are worthless if officials don’t enforce them. “Change has occurred. What we have to do as officials is to manage that change,” he said.

What’s the Rule?

Colgate pointed out that NFHS rules committees take into account several factors when considering rule changes. “The first priority of our rulesmaking process at the NFHS is safety — risk minimization,” he said. “When that is going to be tied into any rule that is approved by the committee is, can it be officiated? Can it be administered? We’ve got to look at the officials out there, that may put them into a position (in which a call is) subjective. Is it a clear-cut call? Where is this going to come into play?

“The educational process is something I think we’ve stepped up,” he declared. “I think our state associations have stepped up, and I think the local officiating chapters have stepped up also, because it’s all about education right now.”

Shaw noted that the Appendix C in the NCAA football rulebook addresses concussions. The reason that section is in the book — and the reason it’s important for officials to know it — is that their job in the area of injuries doesn’t begin and end with stopping the clock and waving the medical staff onto the field to attend to a stricken player.

“I’m going to say in this world we’re in today, that’s not the end of our role,” Shaw declared. “In fact, the rulebook says … in this process officials and coaches — not just coaches and medical personnel — shall give special attention to players who exhibit signs of a concussion.

“Now (as a referee) I need to be looking over there into his eyes and say, ‘Is this guy woozy?’ If he’s demonstrating any signs of a concussion, I need to stop the game and put him out,” Shaw said. “The coach may not like it, but we need to get him to the right people on the sideline, the medical personnel, who now can make an assessment (and decide if) we let this guy play.”

While injury recognition is important, officials aren’t expected to be amateur physicians.

“Absolutely not,” Hainline said. More important, he said, is management. “That’s really the key word. The officials aren’t asked to be medical doctors, they aren’t asked to treat, but they’re the group of people on the field or wherever they are on the court, they can manage the situation appropriately. They have guidelines to manage the situation, and I think that in this day and age if there was any sort of doubt, to err on the side of caution, no one is going to fault you for that.”

Offering information can be very valuable. “With 20,000 plus high schools across the country in the rural setting, we don’t have an appropriate health-care professional on the sidelines that’s coming out to tend to this individual that’s down on the court or on the ice,” Colgate said. “Maybe only one coach. If they’re tending to something else on the sidelines, they may not have seen what happened (to the injured player). Any information that (officials) may be able to let (the coach) know. Was this person conscious before they went down and collapsed? That could be a difference, life or death, right there. A little bit of information may do more good than harm. I think we’ve got to be proactive with this.”

Hainline agreed and suggested more education for officials. “You don’t have to be medically qualified to ask the question. You just have to have a sense of what you’re looking for. But for the official to ask, get a sense of what’s going on and to err on the side of caution, I think that’s really the way that things must go.”

Triplette related a situation from one of his games. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took a hit that resulted in an injury. “He’s holding his wrist as the medical personnel come out. They treat that wrist, and lo and behold they sent him back in the next series,” Triplette recalled. “The next day they discover he has a serious concussion. He’s out for the next week.

“You come to find out that the trainers are administering to an injured player on the sideline (and) no one on the sideline — none of the trainers, none of the doctors — had seen the hit that took place on the field.”

Officials can and should offer any information that might assist the medical team, Minter said. “If you see a person get cut down and their leg buckles underneath where you know it’s a knee injury, and the trainer comes out and immediately starts looking around the player’s head or something like that, you have positive information that something is not right,” he said.

Warning! Don’t Warn

At one time, it was acceptable and in some cases mandated that players were warned but not penalized for what were thought to be minor infractions. Those days, Minter said, are long gone.

“I think for officials in managing player safety, we are going to need to rethink those incidents where we traditionally have passed on (penalizing),” he said. “We’ve seen the rather rough play off the ball, 15 yards behind the play, or at the other end of the court on the low post or something like that, and what have we traditionally done? We’ve gone up to those players and said, ‘Hey, I saw that. Can’t let that happen again.’ The old talk-to, right? We’ve all engaged in talk-tos. What we need to now look at and determine is, is a talk-to a viable defense when we talk to our insurance carriers? Because now plaintiffs are definitely going to raise that as an issue. … Maybe we’re going to need to rethink that. We’re going to step in on the first whistle when the puck is dropped in the first period, the minute we see something, we’re going to nail people, if for no other reason than self-defense.”

It Starts at the Top

While officials do bear a great responsibility in the area of player safety, Shaw believes they are not alone. “Coaches have to change the way they coach,” he said. “No longer can we say, ‘It’s just a good football play.’ You have to change the way you coach. If it’s tackling, heads up, see what you hit, lower your target. And then the player has got to execute that.”

In addition to the competitive edge that can be created by “taking out” an opponent, players are trying to make hits that will get them on TV highlight shows. Shaw says there is a way to accomplish that legally.

“In (players’) words, they can still blow (opponents) up, but stay off their head,” he said. “That’s the behavior that if we change we keep it a great game and a tough, physical game, but a more safe game. We as officials have to do our part to not hesitate to put the marker on the ground.”

While most great athletes are considered to have a certain “tough-guy” mentality, Hainline said taking that attitude to an extreme is problematic in the treatment of injured players.

“It’s not only that players shouldn’t try to hurt someone else by way of deliberately concussing them, but players who are concussed, they actually hide it,” he said. “We’re publishing a study (that reveals) 50 percent of players from an Ivy League football school — you’d think they’re educated — hide their concussions because they’re afraid they’re going to lose their position, someone is going to take it from them.”

Hainline said the NCAA has an opportunity to add to the body of knowledge by creating a video devoted to injury recognition and prevention. “A video package that has a lot of educational pieces in it,” Hainline said, one that “really just takes you from A to Z about the different points, not only of concussion, but other potentially serious issues that happen on the field. The NCAA has a role, I think has a duty, to do the education.”

The last piece of the puzzle, Hainline said, is buy-in from parents of players and fans.

Repercussions Coming?

In some ways, the injury problem is nothing new. Triplette recalled that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban college football after a spate of catastrophic injuries, including deaths, were occurring during games. Roosevelt conducted a meeting with influential coaches and ordered them to get things under control. Those efforts mollified the president and the game continued.

Could history be preparing to repeat itself?

“That’s a good question,” Colgate responded. “If we don’t take a close look at all parties involved with the management of sport, there’s going to be issues. And if it’s not going to be addressed by those that are overseeing it, I’ve got a feeling Washington, D.C., is going to step into the fold.”

Congress has made noise about mandating concussion legislation. Hainline said the NFL and the NCAA were made aware of a bill that would have prescribed exactly how to manage a concussion. “That’s the worst thing that Congress can do because every concussion is different,” he said. “If we are now saying the doctor has to do this, the trainer has to do this, Congress just doesn’t have the ability to do that. They tried to do that with diabetic care. What happened is we had more brain injuries from diabetes as the result of a mandate from what they passed than we ever had before.”

The Bottom Line

The panel concluded that the watchword is change. Every stakeholder in sports needs to change his or her attitudes regarding player safety and injuries. “Playing hurt” is no longer to be admired; it is to be abhorred.

“I would say to all of the management, and all the administrators, all of the officials, all of us have to change,” Triplette concluded. “This is serious stuff, and it’s our job. It’s our job to protect every one of our sports.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor and is a multisport official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 02/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – What Assigners Really Do

Some people think assigners have an easy job. But the truth is that the demands of assigning coupled with the pressure being applied by coaches, schools and the officials themselves rule out the undertaking for the faint of heart.



By Jeffrey Stern

From the outside looking in, assigning officials sounds like a simple enough task: Make a grid, get the schedule, fill in the dates, put names next to the dates. Done. Just that easy. Just that quick.

As a wise man once said, if it were that easy, anyone could do it. Turns out, there is a lot more to it than that.

Participants in a panel discussion at the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit provided a glimpse of the process that is assigning officials.

“I think there’s a misconception that when you’re assigning, you just kind of put names on games,” said Dana Pappas, commissioner of officials for the New Mexico Activities Association.

For instance, what kind of things do assigners worry about? Bill Carollo, coordinator of college football officials for the Midwest Football Officials Alliance, which includes the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley Football conferences, has sleepless nights wondering if he’s covered every possible base.

“I never assigned until a few years ago,” Carollo said. “My biggest worry was always if I missed a game; if I made a mistake. It’s a lot of administrative responsibility. So I would always worry and double check and make sure, and then put the responsibility back on the school to make sure that these are the games that they’ve asked us to assign and have that confirmed. But I’d always worry about maybe someone not showing up because I didn’t assign it.”

Jim Corstange assigns football and basketball officials in the southwest part of Michigan. Despite years of experience, he still frets over possible mistakes.

“Dealing with 50 schools, 50
athletic directors, and they keep changing their schedules constantly, you want to make sure that your game is correct,” Corstange said.
“Then I want to make sure those officials show up. Yes I use ArbiterSports (Internet-based assigning) and yes I send out reminders. But I usually call that same day just to make sure, just to double check, and then I feel comfortable. And if the game time is 7:00 and if my phone rings at 6:30, I get nervous.”

“In our office, I do all the postseason assignments,” Pappas said. “There are weekends when I’ll have 80 games and 240 basketball officials. The entire time I’m just looking at my phone because nothing is worse than a 1 p.m. start and your phone is ringing at 12:30 (with an administrator asking), ‘Are we going to have officials for this first-round state playoff game?’”

Assist Advancement?

In some cases, an official is being offered a reward for good work with an assignment, or is being given his or her first crack at a big game. Assigners like to help up-and-comers in that way, but how do they weigh that against the comfort of the known quantity, the veteran who has handled plum assignments before?

“I like to put the rookie, if you will, in with the veteran crew,” said Tom Lopes, executive director of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials and coordinator of basketball officials for the Northeast Conference. “With three officials, it’s sometimes easy to let that happen.”

As the coordinator of a lower-profile collegiate conference, Lopes sees developing the next cadre of top officials as part of his job. “It’s my goal to lose (promising) officials,” he said. “When I say lose, I mean that they get promoted and move up to, say, the Big East or the Big Ten. If I can give them that foundation, I think that’s an important role that we play as assigners.”

Carollo takes a similar tack. “I think you have certain games and you want a veteran and experienced official on that game,” he said. “I tend more to look at the merits of it. Is he ready for that game? You try to work them in.”

As a football assigner, one advantage Carollo has is the size of the crew. “It’s harder to hide on the basketball court with two or three officials. But you can slide somebody in as an alternate in football as one of the position officials,” he said. “Certainly I think that merit is really important but you have to blend that in with some experience. And you don’t get that experience unless you put a young guy in and match him up with an experienced referee, and you want him to shadow that guy for the day. You put him on the sideline or on the field. I say, ‘You’re going to be on this person’s crew, and I want you to watch how he handles his pregame, how he handles the game, how he handles the professionalism and the communication on the sideline.’ That’s how you learn. You have to give them experience and give them a chance to make a mistake. I’m OK with the young guy making a mistake.”

At the high school level, Corstange encourages crews to work with newer officials on freshman and JV games. But he relies on his own eyes and ears to find out who’s earned a promotion.

“When you look at the games you want to make sure you have the right people there,” he said. “And how do they get that? From what they’ve done in the past. At my level, I’ve got 25 games a night. I can’t be at all 25 places (to observe). And I rarely have an observer watching the officials. Some of my officials who get injured want to be involved, and they say, ‘Hey, can I go evaluate for you?’ So I do have a couple people that keep doing that for me, but I rely a lot on my veteran officials to give me input on younger officials to see if they are capable of doing those varsity games.”

Brian Hemelgarn does some assigning and training for the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials and is an active volleyball official. He said mixing veterans with newer officials is common in volleyball. But he also acknowledged that assigners have to balance rewards with the perils of moving someone up too quickly. “I think it’s important that we challenge referees when we give them matches but not put them in a position where they’re not going to be successful,” he said. “So at least in volleyball, for example, giving someone a level of play that they can be challenged yet still find a reasonable level of success is extremely important. We’ve got a lot of younger referees with less experience at least in terms of number of years that call really good matches. And so they sometimes get a primo assignment over a veteran who might deserve the opportunity in terms of experience. But the newer folks coming up are really out there working hard and they get the better assignments at times.”

Handle Coaches

Whether the officials working games are veterans, newcomers or in between, there are going to be disgruntled coaches or athletic directors. The delicate balance of keeping the customers happy with supporting officials is a challenge for assigners.

“When we took over the league four or five years ago, we had a coaches meeting and we got approval from the commissioner,” Lopes said. “We have two rules with our coaches. One is don’t call me the night of a game. The emotion is too high, they can’t see straight, they’re not objective, it’s always our fault anyway. So with that said the next day go look at the film, jot down the notes you want to make, and then call me.”

Lopes said many coaches found that once they had time to look at video of the play, they didn’t need to make the angry phone call. “Because after they reviewed the plays, our officials were correct. That happens 90 plus percent of the time,” he said.

The second rule, Lopes said, comes into play if he is present at a game. He tells the coaches, “Don’t make any signals to me. I can’t help you,” he said. “I never sit at the press table. I’m in the stands somewhere where they can’t see me. But they know I’m there.”

If the coach is unwise enough to gesture to Lopes, the officials have been instructed to slap them with a technical foul. “It’s been, luckily, somewhat successful,” he said. “The coaches are pretty positive. They like what’s being done.”

Carollo’s philosophy in regard to coach’s phone calls is pretty basic. “I don’t give my head coaches my phone number,” he said. “I make them go to their athletic director first. I don’t care whether it’s after the game or whatever. (After talking with the coach), if the athletic director feels that they need to talk to me, I let them give me a call. And I’ve had that happen several times, but I’ll never take a call after the game.”

“I save coaches’ phone numbers in my phone,” Pappas said. “If it’s Tuesday night and (a coach’s number) comes up on my (caller ID), I scream. Then I’ll call the next day and I’ll say, ‘Coach, what’s going on?’ ‘Nothing, I was just mad last night.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s why I didn’t answer your call.’ You do get pretty good at monitoring those things.”

Identify the Red Flags

It is important for an assigner to not only know the kind of official being sent out to work, but the kind of person. As Carollo put it, “It behooves us to know exactly what the expectations are for an official to be in this conference.”

Background checks are common today at all levels and may or may not fall under the assigner’s purview.

“The NCAA has taken over that responsibility,” Carollo said. “But we also do background checks through the Big Ten office and through my (Football Championship Subdivision) conferences. The guys know that if it’s drunken driving or something out of the court or even financial issues, we get involved in all those and we do a check. And sometimes red flags will come up, and we want to look into that just because it could relate to officiating.”

Hemelgarn said USA Volleyball conducts background screening for all referees and coaches. “Primarily the flags would be offenses involving minors, or drug or alcohol offenses,” he said. The check looks seven years into the past to look for issues.

Pappas and Corstange work with high school officials, so the state association handles the checks.

Embrace Diversity

Some assigners, particularly at the high school level, face the mandate — or at least a strong suggestion — from those in charge to hire minorities.

“I don’t think we have done enough to involve diversity in athletics as far as officiating is concerned,” Carollo added. “And when I say diversity I’m not just talking African-American. There’s a lot of nationalities out here that got excluded in the past. Let’s use females as an example. Most women did not have the opportunity to play football so there’s less women going into it. But today it’s changing. And I think the coaches will buy into it. They understand. It’s a different world than it was in the ’60s and ’70s and where a lot of the coaches came out of when they were playing. So it’s a concern of mine to make sure that we do uncover and identify all the best officials possible.”

Hemelgarn said the volleyball community has been working to be more inclusive of women. “I think there’s really an active movement to keep women involved and get them involved and to challenge them regardless of whether it’s boys’ or men’s or girls’ or women’s big matches,” he said. “I think there’s an effort to put them on those matches. And many of them do quite well, and we’re always looking for that diversity or that strong background and presence on the court to give them opportunities.”

Pappas comes from a state with a great mix of races and nationalities. Exposing athletics to those cultures is a way of recruiting future officials. “We really try to look at the populations of our state and try to get more people involved so that kids of that particular nationality or race are aware that’s a viable option for them,” she said. “We lose so many potential officials that don’t understand how to get involved in officiating. If you don’t see someone who is like you, whether it’s female, whether it’s whatever nationality you are in that avocation or that profession, you’re probably not going to go in that direction because you’re not seeing people. It’s that homologous reproduction thing. If you don’t see somebody who looks like you, you’re probably not going to go into that field.”

To that point, Hemelgarn cited the story of an African-American referee who wanted to move up to a national level certification. “On the USA Volleyball website, we have an officiating page that has pictures of all of the national level referees. And he came to me and he said, ‘I went to that web page and I was looking for a mentor. I was looking for somebody like me. I want to be up at that level because the next guy behind me wants to look up and find another referee just like them.’

“I had never thought of that before, and it was really kind of an eye opener for me,” Hemelgarn said, adding that the referee in question did advance to the national level.

Use Evaluation Input

It is difficult to conduct training sessions during the course of a basketball season. But Lopes has one idea that is along those lines.

“After each of our games, all crews have to report to me at least two plays that they questioned themselves about,” he said. “By the next morning I have an email from each of the crewmembers with the time of the two plays. In the morning we can re-evaluate what took place the night before.”

When it comes to hiring observers, Corstange fights the same budget battle as many assigners: Everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but no one wants to pay for it.

“Our state has developed an observers program, and I think that has really helped to evaluate officials and to give us as assigners input to what crews are like, what individuals are like and so forth. But I wish I had more people out there to help evaluate officials to give me more input so I know how to assign properly and do the right thing. I go to the conferences that I work for and say, ‘Can I get $500 to help pay some people to go out and help evaluate?’ And they’re going to say, ‘We don’t have the money.’”

Pappas said her state has tried a couple of different evaluation systems. “We had tried active officials and, of course, that becomes, ‘He said I’m terrible because he wants my games.’ We’re using retired officials and training them through the system and keeping them current in the rulebook and doing more and more with that to make sure that we have eyes on. Because at the end of the day what really does make an assigner’s job so much easier is to make sure that we’re aware of the talents of our officials and the skill level and where they should be as opposed to where they end up.”

Assigner Advice

Despite the trials and tribulations, assigning is a necessary and important component of officiating. What advice would the panel give someone who is or wants to be an assigner?

Remember that you aren’t just filling games, Carollo said, but building a staff. “If I only can give (newer officials) a couple games, I will call other conferences and try to share officials to give them more assignments. I will call neighboring conferences and say, ‘Why don’t you take this guy?’ We both like this official, let’s help this official.”

Corstange said if he were new to assigning he would check with veteran assigners. “Find out what it’s about, what needs to be done, what are the ups and downs, the pluses and negatives,” he said. “Be prepared for it before you’re thrown into it. I feel I was kind of thrown into it, and so I’m learning as I’m going.”

“What’s important for me,” Pappas said, “is being visible and having people know that I’m out watching and showing up at camps and going to different parts of the state. Because if I’m ultimately the person between the stamp of approval on a state tournament assignment, people will say, ‘It’s not fair. She’s never seen me work.’ If I’m not out working with officials, seeing them … I think people have a skewed perception — they feel like you don’t even know who they are.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor. He is a veteran high school and collegiate football official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 11/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – No Regrets

Time to Step Up!

Regrets can be haunting. Don’t be that official who looks back at a game and says, “If only I had done this … or that.” Learn how to do the right thing in the first place.


By Tom Schreck

Sometimes you can do everything in your power to get a call right and still blow it. That’s a tough regret to live with, but it’s even tougher to live with the regrets that you could have avoided. You can do things while the action unfolds in front of you to minimize your regrets and you can do things away from the game for your career that will have you looking in life’s rearview mirror a lot less.

Be aware, put yourself in position and be prepared, not just to make the right call in a contest, but to make the right career moves. Let’s take a look at how you can avoid some of the most common regrets from officials.

I Regret … Not Taking Care of Personalities

Officiating requires dealing with difficult people who are often at their worst, especially under the stress of a close contest. Letting their behavior get to you personally can take you away from the game, but ignoring it brings its own issues. There’s a delicate balance to keeping control of the game and yourself but, like it or not, sometimes you have to face it head on.

You may tell yourself that the hot-headed, foul-mouthed coach with the explosive personality disorder is just blowing off steam. You may reason that addressing the situation will only escalate the disruption. You could be rationalizing your way out of a situation that you should address.

“When a coach is getting vocal it takes away your concentration. You wind up babysitting him or her instead of paying attention to what’s happening between the lines and your concentration isn’t on the floor,” Michael Price, an NCAA Division I basketball referee, says. “If a coach or a player breaks your concentration, you need to deal with it.”

For Price it’s not about his ego or punishment for the obnoxious coach; it is about addressing a factor that is interfering with his ability to call the game. Take the personalities out of it and keep it simple. It’s about doing your job.

Despite what many fans and coaches may think, officials are flesh and blood. Each individual has a different level of tolerance. For some, the gnawing relentless heckling from the bench blends into the white noise of the contest. For others, it becomes a thorn in the side of focused attention.

Knowing you’re not the only official in the world is important, too. Keep in my mind that if you don’t take care of business you might be leaving a mess for another official to clean up later in the season.

“I may know the personality of a coach and the things he or she says may not offend me,” says Robbie Guest, an NCAA Division I softball and baseball umpire. “Still, I have to address it because if what he or she is saying is inappropriate and he or she says it to another official later on, it’s going to cause a problem.”

Taking care of the situation and dealing with poor behavior so that the game can progress naturally does not mean escalating the situation. Be direct, assertive and responsible without throwing gas on the coach’s sizzling embers. Check your own ego at the door and rely on the subtle confidence your experience has brought.

“My job is to be a calming influence and if I escalate things I really regret that,” Randy Wetzel, a 2011 NCAA College World Series baseball umpire, says. “It makes me look bad as a professional.”

Walking the thin line of addressing the situation without escalating it is as much art as it is science. A fair amount of social skills, body language and a few choice words can get the job done and it is an easier strategy than taking on an ego-driven coach wanting to go head-to-head.

“The first time I hear something out of line I might look toward the dugout with my mask on. The second time I might take my mask off, give a look and let them know that I don’t want to hear any more. The third time they do something it means time for an ejection,” Guest says.

Keep your mind clear, leave personalities out of the situation and deal with what’s in front of you before it becomes an unmanageable problem that you wish you had taken care of earlier.

I Regret … Not Making the Big Call

A good official knows the game is about the contest and the participants. By nature, officiating is not about garnering attention.

Many like to say, “When you do your job well, you are invisible to everyone.” But that sentiment can get in the way of optimal performance. The rules and games often call for difficult and unpopular calls at crucial times. Those attention-drawing calls have to be made, but sometimes an official won’t make them because he or she wants to stay in the background. That is a mistake and one that can linger.

“The big call in the big moment is why we’re there. It is the point where all of your training and study comes to a head,” Guest says. “You don’t want to let the excitement of the moment influence you. When I know a game is on the line, I want to be sure that I’m in position and in the right place so I can slow the game down in my mind. At that point I just rely on muscle memory to make the call. A lot of times I don’t realize how big the call was until after the game.”

Keep in mind the players are responsible for their actions. Officials are there to enforce the rules and manage the contest. It is up to you to assess what you see and take action. It is not your fault or responsibility when a player screws up at a crucial time.

“Sometimes we carry the burden of the situation rather than examining the facts. We’re there to make the decision and to uphold the rules. It is not our job to think of the circumstances around it,” says Ben Trevino, NCAA Division I soccer referee.

Avoid feeling responsible for how the contest will ultimately be decided. Make the calls you need to make based on what the players do while in front of you. Let the chips fall where they may and go to your next assignment without regret.

I Regret … Failing to Write the Report

A good part of any profession, in or out of officiating, is taken up with what can seem to be an excruciating amount of minutiae. It’s a necessary evil.

Adopt that type of attitude and don’t expect to get a lot of assignments. The reporting requirements to conference and association leaders are there for a reason. You may get all the calls right when you blow the whistle or call safes and outs, but you’ll live to regret not taking care of business after the buzzer sounds or the final out is called.

“Not doing reports correctly can hurt referees,” Trevino says. “I’ve seen it. Basically it’s part of the job and a requirement. They are hiring you for your services and not doing them puts a strain on administration.”

Internet blogs are set up to criticize officials, so supervisors can be aided by backup documentation to support decisions that wind up under the microscope. Supervisors want to support you and cover themselves because their reputations are on the line as well. Information is power and organized documentation can help you, your supervisor and your organization come out with your respect intact.

“Getting your reports done correctly and on time isn’t glamorous, but it is important,” Wetzel says. “I’m an assistant vice principal of a high school so I’m used to writing reports. Don’t editorialize, treat your writing like it’s a court case and get the facts. Leave your emotions out.”

The attention to detail is vital. It will help for down the road when the situation is called into question.

“I write down facts that will be hard to remember later on,” Guest says. “When something happens I jot down the inning, the coaches and assistant coaches’ names and the important circumstances that will go into a full report.”

Report writing is tedious and isn’t glamorous, but we know the devil is in the details. If you want to avoid your own private hell get the reports done on time and in order. It will save you headaches down the road.

“Failing to complete the required reports puts a strain on administration,” Trevino says. “You can wind up putting people in a bind and ultimately, I believe you’ll be less likely to get a future assignment.”

I Regret … Not Taking Care of My Appearance

You probably didn’t get into this because you liked the show “America’s Next Top Model.” You love the game and you want to be close to it. You care about getting the rules right, staying in position and keeping the contest fair. You have no interest in walking down a runway, so why focus on appearance?

“People form an impression of you in the first seven to 10 seconds,” Wetzel says. “You can be the greatest official in the world, but if they have already made up their minds about you because of the way you look, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If I was a young guy trying to break in I’d do everything I could to look my best.”

Looking good is superficial, but much of your responsibility hinges on the intangibles of things like respect, leadership and confidence. A waist line with the Michelin stamp on it or having as much trouble navigating the field of play as Oprah would have doing a chin up isn’t going to help perceptions. A lean physique and a pressed uniform gives off the message you want conveyed. Keep it simple and give yourself an advantage that is easily in your control.

“Half the battle is won by looking the part,” said Wetzel. “If you’re at your best appearance-wise you’ll look like an official who knows what he or she is doing. Give yourself that advantage.”

I Regret … Not Taking the Extra Career Step

It is common for officials to feel like their careers have grown stagnant. If you’ve been stuck at the same level, doing the same games in the same conference for years and you want to break out, you have to ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to advance?

You can build your career or you can choose to not take those steps because they cost money, involve travel or are inconvenient. Make the latter choice and you’ll live with the regret.

One of the simplest ways to open up doors is to attend camps and clinics.

“In today’s world it is the only way to advance yourself,” said Wetzel. “Attend as many camps and clinics as you can, even if you’re not getting assignments. Simply put, if people don’t know your name and who you are, you simply are not going to get games.”

Part of the formula is honing your game skills and staying on top of rule changes and approaches, but the networking and face-to-face contact is just as important as any education. That isn’t about manipulative do-anything-to-get ahead salesmanship. It is about making connections, developing camaraderie and letting the industry know who you are. In our world of Facebook, iPhones and Blackberries, sometimes it is easy to forget face-to-face meetings.

“It is important career-wise and it is important on a personal level,” Guest says. “Many of the camps have a real reunion feel to them and you get a chance to visit with people you see only a handful of times a year. It also translates into better performance because you develop relationships with people who you will wind up working with on the field.”

The fact of the matter is that people have to know who you are to assign you. Word of mouth isn’t efficient and it is only natural for those doing the assigning to go with officials they are familiar with. Instead of getting resentful of those who seem to have an “in” you can take the necessary steps to promote yourself.

“If you’re an excellent official and no one knows you — and I’m not talking about a good ol’ boy network — you’re not going to be noticed,” said Wetzel. “They have to be able to put a face to a name.”

You could make the next step in your career. It might mean joining a new association, paying the dues and traveling to camps and clinics across the country. Sure, it’ll take some cash out of your pocket, some time off from work and a few days away from the family, but the rewards are likely to mean a step up in your officiating career.

Failing to make the move to put yourself into that position will certainly be a tough regret to live with.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 7/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – 9 Easy Ways to Kill Your Career

There are a lot of long and promising careers available for officials of all levels. … And then there are career-killers. You don’t want to dig your own grave. Put down the shovel and know the actions to avoid.


By Tim Sloan

Call it what you want: The funnel, the meat grinder, the system, the process; whatever the metaphor, the concept is the same: If there’s something worth doing in life, chances are there are more people who want to do it than there are places for them all. Some will be discarded. Not everyone who goes in one end comes out the other.

The world of sports takes no prisoners in that regard. If you’re an athlete, the odds are far better that you’ll be a starter on your high school team, then the number three person in regional sales before you retire from your last pro athlete contract. When the talent is that good, and the opportunities so few, you don’t have to be that bad to fall by the wayside somewhere.

Arguably, officiating has become the same way. There might have been a time when hard work, spunk, knowing the game and a willingness to make the commitment was all it took to move up. If you were willing to sacrifice your home life for your avocation, there were more people willing to let you try. Nowadays, we seem waist-deep in fellow officials who always want more than they have and, in the true spirit of the rat race, will do whatever they can to get to “The Show.” But it isn’t always clear who will succeed: Some of the can’t-miss people we know wash out, while others less gifted slug it out and eventually wave to us from the tube every Sunday afternoon.

Referee development has become such a concerted process today. One of the consequences is that the people who identify and promote officials can point to many different ways that someone in the mix can do him- or herself in, despite their ability. Rising players derail themselves with bad choices, immaturity and burnout mostly. So do promising officials. They lose sight of the fact that assigners have plenty of people willing to work with them; they can do without people who think they have diplomatic immunity to the law of the jungle. Here is a list of nine such showstoppers to fine careers and some feedback from people who work with the up-and-comers about how it all really works.

1. Fall to Adequately Prepare

To many of us, that may sound like nothing more than not staying in game shape or keeping your uniform and appearance in order. There’s an element of truth in that and, particularly as we all get older, the people who realize that it’s easier to stay in shape than get in shape carry the day. Darrin Sealey, however, thinks poor preparation runs deeper than that at the higher levels. Sealey is the college baseball umpire coordinator for Mid-Atlantic Officials and is well known in NCAA circles; he worked the 2009 College World Series. His job is to identify and develop umpires along parts of the East Coast and has worked with some who were their own worst enemies. He says he sees some umpires with good potential become stranded at the lower levels for reasons having nothing to do with balls and strikes. He thinks some umpires fall into a “high school” mentality of squeezing games into their schedule and not devoting the level of preparation to them they require.

“A lot of people think pregames happen an hour before game time,” Sealey says. “Pregames start days, if not months, before that first game. If (an umpire) is showing up 30 minutes before game time because he’s not leaving work on time and driving through D.C. traffic and then he’s rushing to get his plate gear on, he’s going to have problems. His mind-set then is ‘everything’s sped up; everything’s sped up’ and everything does speed up in his mind.”

That makes his onfield work suffer because he hasn’t had the time to focus and get into the groove that’s required to perform at that level before the game starts.

J.B. Caldwell is an NCAA basketball official who also assigns and trains college officials in Florida and he agrees with Sealey. “One of the biggest issues I’ve had with people trying to sustain themselves at the college level has nothing to do with being on the floor but managing issues off the floor,” says Caldwell. “I lean on saying that someone that fundamentally is not well organized is going to have a tough time.”

In an eagerness to move up, some officials take on too much and don’t give themselves the hours in the day necessary to mentally prepare for their assignments. Succeeding at the upper levels requires a strategic approach to travel, study, exercise and rest that some handle better than others. Some try to work beyond their limitations and their work suffers.

2. Don’t Follow Through on your word

Gil Urban wears a number of hats around Michigan soccer through his work with U.S. Soccer and says moving up in the soccer world requires a couple of things. One is meeting the requirements of U.S. Soccer’s assessment process. The other is keeping up your image and the demand for your skills through all the games you have to work in the process. Urban calls it being unprofessional when officials start missing assignments they agreed to work.

“Someone who has a tendency to be late, or even worse than that, misses an assignment,” gets a rep he or she doesn’t need, Urban explains. “People will say, ‘He’s a great ref, but there’s a 10 percent chance he won’t show up,’ because he’s just not professional enough to manage his calendar, his time and his lead time.” Many assigners will take their chances with Jimmy Olsen if they’re worried Superman might have to flake at the last minute.

Being reliable extends to more than just making it to assignments, however. Nowadays, competent officials are called upon more to help evaluate other officials, attend meetings, show up for camps and whatever else their bosses deem desirable. It’s all part of the deal and it’s no longer acceptable to play elitist and tell your boss what you will or won’t do.

3. Trash Talk

Some would call that biting the hand that feeds you. Whatever the term, it’s never good to run down your boss to others. The way things work today, the grapevine will strangle anyone who thinks slagging others is an anonymous crime. When that kind of intrigue gets back to Sealey, he says it isn’t so much a question of his own sensitivity to criticism; more that it’s a symptom of a more serious disease.

“One in 10 guys is always complaining,” according to Sealey — about his assignments, his partners or even how they came up with the names for the planets. “Two or three out of 10 will always have some complaints, too.

“Zero of the hardcore complainers ever makes it because they burn themselves out,” he says. Officials who choose to take issue with others eventually end up having too many demons to fight and their reputation collapses. That happens because they’re guilty of the next item on the list.

4. Shirk Accountability

Caldwell says there are some officials an assigner can never do enough for and it manifests itself in a lack of self-effacement. “Not accepting responsibility or taking ownership,” for your success, he says, is no way to operate. “If you’ve got people in denial when you’re working with them, it’s hard to overcome their deficiencies.”

Face it, every official has work to do to get better and some officials either don’t see that or believe any admission of weakness will lower them in the eyes of the assigner. Sealey contends that just the opposite is true. “The first thing I’m looking for,” he says, “is an eagerness to learn.” And that, for him, implies the understanding that you have something to learn.

“I want the new guy to love the game of baseball,” Sealey adds. “If he doesn’t, he has some other motive for working for me and that scares me.”

5. Don’t Pay Attention to the Boss

A good way to learn is to consider that the assigner, assessor or crew chief has something worthwhile to say. Urban sees officials who will instead react by blowing off the credentials of a trained assessor when a less-than-glowing report is turned in. OK, maybe one afternoon can be a bit rough, but Urban believes you have to look at all your evaluations as a body of work, often presenting a recurring theme. Give the people who pass those judgments some credit and heed what they tell you.

There’s more to it than taking criticism well, though. Sealey has had people come to camps who say, “I’m just here to be evaluated, not to do the education sessions.”

“Ninety-nine percent of mechanics are the same way everywhere,” says Sealey. “Different coordinators have their own interpretation of the other one percent and, if you don’t educate yourself in your assigners’ expectations, you’ll have trouble.”

Maybe that’s the Me generation at work, rebelling against anything we didn’t think of first, but one can see how that causes problems. Working on any officiating crew is not an exercise for mavericks. If an official is glugging his or her own bathwater instead of working within the system, everyone suffers. That is generally followed by the boss having strange phone conversations when he or she should be in bed sleeping. If you establish a reputation for not serving the boss, it will be a short-lived one.

6. Be Fake

I remember Andy Dufresne offering some career advice to a fellow inmate in The Shawshank Redemption. That fellow had been in and out of jail since the age of 10. “Perhaps you should consider another line of work because you’re obviously not a very good crook,” Dufresne said. Caldwell has similar advice for officials who choose to be less than truthful with him or anyone else.

“People that give me fantasy reasons why they can’t attend meetings or manufacture excuses that simply are not true — I don’t go on missions to check these people out but the grapevine is healthy and alive,” says Caldwell. Most assigners can handle the truth and accept that life sometimes gets in the way of officiating. As long as it’s still an avocation for 99 percent of all officials, Caldwell would prefer people tell him what he might not want to hear than manufacture something they think he does want to hear. It’s called credibility.

Sealey is amazed at how many people will lie on their resumés when they apply for a job with him. They’ll say that they worked in a certain league or with certain partners when, charitably, their memory apparently fails them. “Especially with the Internet these days,” he says, “it’s so easy to go online and check people out.”

To continue the Dufresne analogy, Andy created an alter-ego as an imaginary financier to help launder money extorted by the evil warden. He eventually took on that identity to abscond to Mexico with millions. It helped that he really had been a bank president before going to prison; it made it so much easier to have other people take him seriously. Those would-be officials, who tell prospective bosses they’re something they’re not, will eventually be found out … probably the first time they step on the field. Typically, they pad their resumés to gain an edge, and that’s because they’re trying to …

7. Force the Close

“I’ve never had an umpire tell me he thought he was moving too quickly in his career,” assures Sealey. There might be some officials who prefer to take a little more time to pause and smell the flowers along the road of life, but most are willing to have it all thrown at them: Bring it on! In fact, some of them are so sure of their abilities that they tend to reject the process for being checked out by a potential new boss.

Caldwell says there are a lot of things he can do to appraise talent, including evaluating their athleticism, spending time with them, giving rules tests and the like. He can also find out a lot anecdotally about their relationships with their peers and things like aptitude, values and character … but until he sees them in a pressure-packed situation, he never knows for sure how they’re going to respond.

“And you really can’t manufacture that in a summer camp setting,” says Caldwell.

So, that is the rub. Officials have to accept that they won’t get to work for someone without having been personally observed by that person or someone he or she trusts. Sealey says, “I’ve had people who said, ‘I don’t try out for anybody,’” when asked for their schedule to check up on their application. All of them have been wished the best of luck in their future endeavors: they won’t work for him.

Relax. Networking among assigners is very common and that means the fear of “trying out” shouldn’t be that big of a deal: The assigner’s probably heard enough favorable things already about a candidate to warrant a look-see at all. The flip side of that is that sometimes officials just don’t work out in some leagues. Caldwell and Sealey say that’s not often the end of the road. When somebody inquires about the ability of an umpire who’s seeking greener pastures than his, Sealey has no hard feelings. He says he’ll give an honest assessment of the person’s strengths and weaknesses but never render a personal opinion in the process. Most assigners see an official’s success as a combination of ability and the right environment, so moving on from a bad situation isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

8. Misidentify Where You should be in your Career

Urban sees officials who view progression as a sort of checklist to be ticked off, as tasks are completed. “You hear, I’ve now worked 122 games at this level, so I’m ready to be upgraded,’” he says. Perhaps because an experience factor is defined in the U.S. Soccer progression, some officials take it as the only thing they have to do — especially if they don’t like the tone of some of their assessments. In fact, a lot of sports have their share of officials who believe that “time served” should be the only true measurement of promotability. In that case, maybe the system is as often to blame for the official’s frustration. The human mind, in absence of the concrete, can conjure tremendous fantasy. Competitive officials need honest and actionable feedback and, if they don’t receive it, make things worse by guessing at their true weaknesses and fixing the wrong things.

Urban, Sealey and Caldwell all agree that the systems now exist to provide feedback from myriad sources — coaches, officials, assigners, observers — and present it coherently to the officials who need it. At the high school level, some states do a better job than others, however, due to the availability of resources: That’s a problem, and it may reflect itself in the retention rates of officials. At the college and professional levels, the case is usually one of ample feedback, sometimes brutally rendered. Those organizations have realized the value of, and invested in, developing officials thoroughly and keeping them for the long haul.

9. Don’t Self-Analyze

Ultimately it all comes down to the effort of the official to improve. You can reduce your chances of lung cancer by quitting smoking. Same with cirrhosis of the liver and quitting drinking. But you can’t avoid disappointment by quitting listening. No matter what you say on your resumé, what you think of the assigner and how bad the coaches are in your league, some officials still succeed, while others don’t. If you find that things aren’t going well for you as an official, ultimately it comes back to what you have decided to do about it, or not. If you aren’t prepared to be honest with yourself about what has to change and then commit to do it, all of those other issues are moot. And in some cases, it really is the end of the road; you’ve reached your level of incompetence: Get used to it.

When officials have conflict and trouble in their careers, the experts say that it often stems from asking the wrong question: “What’s in it for me?” Conversely, the great officials continue to persevere and to learn and they never think it’s about them. Sealey remembers finding that epiphany when he went to Omaha in 2009 and looked around at all the great umpires he worked with. To him, flourishing as an official is now simple: “Focus more on who you’re with and what you’re doing than where you’re at and who’s playing,” Sealey says.

Never be bigger than the game.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, officiates high school football, basketball and volleyball. He is a former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 9/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – I’ve Been Meaning to Say …

Sometimes the path of least resistance leads to a dead end in officiating. It’s time to say what you need to say. Just make sure you say it the right way.


By the Referee editors

We’re used to practicing restraint in conversations with coaches and players, because saying it like it is could cost us our careers. But should being “safe” in what we say extend to those in and outside the industry who are on our side? So often we want to say something to improve our crew, association and career, but don’t because we’re afraid we might offend someone or don’t know how to say it the proper way.

It’s time to speak up … and we’ll provide you with the guidance to say the right things when it’s time to talk to your partners, crew chiefs, assigners, local and state association leaders and spouse.


1. “You’re not good; you stink.”

As much as you want to and as much as it might be warranted, that’s an example of what not to say. But you should say something. Confronting a partner who is not making the grade is difficult but important. Start by bringing up some positives (there must be a few) in his or her game, and then share some aspects your partner needs to work on and offer positive suggestions on how he or she can improve.

2. “Just shut up.”

Some officials like to talk and they need a reminder to zip it. Cover the topic in your pregame or postgame. Stress the importance of staying focused on the game and the perception problem caused by talking to the nearest coach between every inning or break in the action. It might take video of the game along with your words to really drive the problem home. Seeing is believing and will hopefully lead to golden silence when appropriate.

3. “Stay for the postgame.”

Games can go long, but the partners that “can’t” take an extra five minutes for a postgame talk can drive you crazy. We’ve all got things to do and we want to get home, but a few minutes now could help tremendously in the long run. If your partner is flying out of the locker room as soon as you enter it, unless it is for an emergency, insist that the official stays. Flat out tell your partner he or she needs to stay. And explain why you are insisting. Most officials will stay, possibly grudgingly, but that’s a start.

4. “Lose weight; take a shower.”

If your partner literally cleaned up his or her act and dropped a few pounds, bigger and better assignments would likely be waiting. Sometimes it takes a crewmate who is a close friend to tell the official. It’s easy to ignore issues if no one brings them up. But if you tell your peer the need for improvement, it might be the kick in the pants he or she needs. Before having the talk, you better makes sure your look and hygiene are in order.

Sure, your partner has to want to make a change, but hearing from you that it’s necessary is important. Explain that it’s all part of a professional approach, a little thing that pays dividends toward overall perception. If you’re fat and obviously not in good physical condition, you’ll be perceived as lazy, whether you are or not.

5. “Go to a camp.”

If your crewmate would get it through his or her thick head about the benefits of attending a camp, maybe he or she wouldn’t be whining so much about not getting better assignments. After you attend a camp, share with your partner how much you have learned. Encourage your crewmate to attend with you next time. Highlight the benefits of attending a camp: learning new philosophies and being seen by the people who are in position to give you better assignments.

Tell your peer, “If you can show the clinicians what you can do, you just may get a chance to show them during the season and postseason as well.” That’s a message he or she can’t refuse.

6. “Stop calling in my area.”

When your partner calls in your area, it’s fairly obvious he or she doesn’t trust you or doesn’t know where to be looking. Either way, your partner’s not watching his or her own area.

Show and tell your partner, “I can handle my area and I don’t appreciate getting shown up by you on a play or situation that is there for me to judge. Worse, now I have to explain to the coach standing next to me why I didn’t make that call and you did. You’re not making my job any easier. You don’t have to be Superman out there. Let’s work as a crew to manage this game.”

Speaking your mind is important. Then you must listen. Maybe your partner doesn’t trust you (and for good reason). Earn that trust.

7. “Be on time.”

Talking to your partner about showing up on time will help him or her in the long run. Maybe work commitments are an issue, but by being consistently late or rolling up five to 10 minutes before the game begins, your partner is harming the reputation of the whole crew. Some reasons for promptness to stress include: It offers a chance for a pregame to work on mechanics, crew communication, presence, rules enforcement, etc. That will help your crew to get into a productive mind-set for games.

8. “You’re not a player anymore.”

A lot of former players move toward officiating to be a part of the game. They just need to remember that they’re not playing the game anymore. A reminder that the glory days are over can be important at times. Stress that, as a sports official, he or she needs to act like one and dress like one. Showing up to a game wearing sweatpants, the latest name-brand basketball shoes and a T shirt are no-nos. It’s about the game. A good way to show respect toward it is how you dress while arriving to the event, during the event and afterward.


9. “Get rid of Joe Smith.”

If a crewmate isn’t good enough or capable enough anymore, and your crew chief is keeping the official around when he or she should be gone, it’s important to talk about it. The conversation should be done privately without the other crewmates. Then you have to ask some questions: “Why do you insist on keeping this guy or gal on the crew? I know you two are friends and have worked together a long time, but it’s affecting the crew’s overall performance. Have you talked to him or her about performance or retirement?”

By avoiding the problem, you may prevent an awkward conversation, but your crew’s rankings will likely take a hit. Make clear to the crew chief potential issues with inaction: there’s a good chance others will gradually leave, state tournament assignments will not be in our future, etc.

10. “Relax.”

If a crew chief is on edge, crewmates are likely going to be as well. With so many responsibilities, it’s no wonder some crew chiefs get a little uptight. If something goes wrong, it’s their fault. But if a crew chief is uptight, it’s difficult for the rest of the crew to remain calm and officiate the game. Advising your crew chief to “relax” is important, but along with that should be an offering of assistance from the crew. Maybe officials could volunteer to rotate leading a pregame or postgame discussion.

11. “Be prepared. Have a pregame.”

Some crew chiefs are so relaxed or lackadaisical that they don’t even have a pregame. In that case, you need to ask for one and get the backing from the rest of the crew when you do. Pregames are important, no matter what the level of experience of each member in the crew. Just because you’ve been working together for years doesn’t mean that everything will run like clockwork. Your crew chief needs to be reminded of that. A heads-up on the teams, coaches, game management and everyone’s assignments will go a long way. If a pregame gets old, vary the style/format.

13. “It’s OK to say ‘no’ to games.”

Burnout is real. If you think your crew’s assignments were too much to handle the previous year. Talk to your crew chief as early as possible before the next year’s scheduling and explain that it’s OK to take a break and say no to a few games. In fact, it would be healthy for the crew to have a few more days off. The rest will pay off late in the season.

14. “Get off your high horse.”

We don’t recommend using those words, but getting the message across is important or you and your crewmates may grow to resent your leader. Getting the message across should begin with a positive: “We all know that you’re a good official and that’s a major reason why we selected you to be the crew chief, but understand that it’s not all about you. Put others on the crew up on a pedestal here and there. Positive reinforcement is a good thing, too. As good of an official as you are, you can be even better by adjusting your attitude.”


15. “My schedule sucks.”

If you’re not happy with your schedule, it’s OK to voice some concerns. Saying it “sucks” might give you no schedule at all, which would suck even more. So how do you get the message across without using the wrong words? Ask the supervisor/assigner what you need to do in order to get better or more games? By asking the question, you’re conveying your displeasure with your schedule in a productive way.

16. “Why was he or she on this game?”

Assignments don’t always make sense, but questioning the assigner’s judgment isn’t recommended. If you don’t agree with an official assigned to a game with you, use the methods within the system to question it. Maybe it’s a peer evaluation or maybe you ask the assigner if he or she will review the game video and evaluate your crew. That brings your partner’s faults to the forefront without throwing him or her under the bus.

17. “How about standing up for your officials?”

“You know what that coach did was wrong, but you aren’t doing anything about it. We elected you and you are a member of our board. Why should we have to put up with that from a coach?” Assigners and supervisors should have officials’ backs when tough times arise. In order to expect a lot from them, officials must work with high integrity and professionalism.

18. “Take care of the coaches.”

If it goes beyond one incident and coaches show a pattern of behavior, officials have a responsibility to the game to ask assigners/supervisors to take further action. Tougher sporting behavior requirements are a possible solution. Fair is fair. Tell the assigner, “Don’t ask us to be professional without expecting the same from them.”

19. “Don’t forget where you came from!”

Administrative duties can cause some assigners and supervisors to forget their oncourt and onfield roots. So how do you remind them? You might want to say, “You are one of us … or at least you were! You know our personalities, our good traits and our bad. You know what sets us off. Don’t just sit in your office and schedule games … be an effective champion for us!” A better approach might be to talk to the assigner about a specific issue, asking how he or she would have handled it when officiating. It reminds assigners/supervisors of their background and reintroduces the challenges you’re facing.

21. “Evaluate more!”

Evaluating is another topic that should be brought up by the group. If you and the members of your officials association want the assigner to see and evaluate more games, you should list it as part of his or her formal duties. That gets the message across from the masses and will make more of an impact on the individual. And as a result, the assigner will better see who can really officiate and who can’t.


22. “The meetings are lame.”

It’s obviously boring to have someone read from the rulebook at meetings and most officials associations have moved beyond that. But some local association meetings are indeed boring and lame. If you are not happy with your association’s meetings, it’s OK to voice your concern to leadership. But along with your constructive criticism, you better have some meaningful suggestions on how to engage and challenge membership in another way. Without the ideas, why should anyone listen to you?

23. “It’s the 21st  Century! Use technology.”

One way to instantly boost your local association’s meetings is through the use of technology. Suggest to your leadership that a PowerPoint presentation would add wonders to meetings. Oh, and video plays would make them even better! If you are good with technology, leaders may even solicit your help in preparing some of the multi-media presentations.

24. “Nobody cares about the war stories.”

If meeting presenters are using too much time to regale members about that “one game in Brown County,” it might be time to ask that presentations stay on point and remain focused on education. If leaders want to share their war stories, they can do so after the meeting over a beer (with the few members who haven’t heard them before). The best time to address a long-winded presenter is after the meeting in private. Don’t embarrass your leadership by asking them to zip it during the meeting presentation.

25. “Join NASO en masse.”

If you’re a National Association of Sports Officials member, you know the benefits of membership. Don’t keep those to yourself. Pitch NASO group membership to the leaders in your local association. Group membership allows all the officials in your association to get insurance, educational discounts, MICP consultation and more from NASO through a discounted group membership rate. The details of group membership, available on the NASO website (naso.org) provide leaders what they need to know to join.

26. “I’m leaving for a better association.”

It’s never easy saying goodbye, but sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties with an officials association if it isn’t living up to your expectations and helping to make you a better official. Have the courage to tell your group’s leadership in person that you are leaving for another association. And go the next step. Tell them why. It may hurt or upset the leaders at the moment, but it may actually help them grow in the future.

27. “Give us a voice.”

If association board members are making key directional decisions without the input of the general membership, it’s appropriate for you and others to speak up and ask board members how your voice can be heard. But understand that sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions. With too many different voices, nothing gets accomplished.


29. “Stop using coaches’ ratings (unless they work).”

The fact that most zeros are from coaches that lose and the high scores come from winning coaches should clue state office leaders in on a problem. Coaches often aren’t objective when they’re emotionally invested. But the problem is that studies have shown that officials aren’t very objective when it comes to rating peers either, so there is no easy solution. Ideally you can suggest that assigners, retired officials and administrators evaluate periodically to check accuracy of the scores. Beyond that, ask the state office to throw out the really high and low ratings.

30. “No one does the test by themselves.”

The truth is a lot of officials share answers on rules tests. Painting fellow officials in a bad light to state associations isn’t exactly recommended. But bringing such a problem to the attention of your local leadership to address with the state is appropriate. Suggest that the state office vary the order of the questions or provide other requirements. It will help to weed out those who are taking the easy way out.

31. “Give us some real training.”

Yes, there are some officials who cut corners on tests, but there are many who want to learn as much as possible about officiating. In order to do that, it’s OK to ask state associations to expect more of local associations in their educating roles. Maybe they can require associations to be certified and to provide proper training for officials. On a greater scale, suggest the state office host a state officiating day each year to provide extra education and motivation. State offices won’t know what you want unless you ask for it.

32. “Watch a game.”

In order to know what we’re going through, in order to have a handle on the sportsmanship issues we’re dealing with, in order to understand the professionalism we exhibit day in and night out, state office leaders need to watch some games. State office leaders should watch officials work in various sports once in a while. Inviting a state leader to your next game probably isn’t the way to make an impact, but working through your local association to ask state leaders how often they get to see a game or inviting them to a big rivalry game, might be a way to say what you want to say.

33. “Give us the benefit of the doubt.”

Officials understand that they make mistakes. But whether they make a mistake or not, they are doing their best on the field and court, and they hope and expect the state office to support their efforts. State office personnel should have your back when coaches are “crying” that you lost the game for their team. One call, no matter what time in the game it occurs, is just a call. Teams win and lose games. If your state doesn’t support you like it should, contacting state leaders with the backing of fellow officials is appropriate.


34. “It’s not all fun and games.”

We all know there is more to officiating than getting on the field or court to ply our trade. In order to do the job properly, there is a lot of work to do and not all of it is fun or glamorous.

If all you ever talk about with your spouse is the after-game dinner you have with your crew, instead of the difficult run-ins with the visiting coach, he or she won’t understand the full picture. Share the ups and downs of officiating with your significant other.

35. “Where do you think all the money comes from?”

Seems a bit sarcastic to go over well with any spouse. But reminding him or her how officiating positively impacts the family is important. The more games we work, the more money we make. That money buys steak once in a while instead of hamburger. It means one more night’s stay at the theme park hotel on vacation with the kids. It allows us to set a few extra dollars aside for emergencies, like car repairs or a new furnace.

36. “Officiate with me.”

Talk about killing two birds with one stone. The shortage of officials is addressed and couples get some “us time” by officiating together. Working with a spouse means you have a partner you know and trust. It means double the extra cash flow and a lot of shared experiences to discuss around the dinner table. Be prepared for the answer, though. If your officiating is an escape from work and family issues, bringing your spouse along might not be the brightest idea.

37. “How come I’m always right outside the house but never inside it?”

An official knows in his or her heart when a correct call has been made. While coaches, players and fans may not like the decision, they have to live with it. That doesn’t work away from the court or field, so when a spouse disputes a “call,” it can be more frustrating than when it happens in a game. But if your spouse is the crew chief in your household, you might just have to live with it. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question though (or maybe it will, but it would be worth it to hear your spouse’s answer).

Ahh … deep breath. Doesn’t it feel good to speak your mind? It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the right words.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 10/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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