Feature – Military Intelligence


By Dave Simon

NBA Supervisor on the Value of Military Service

Bob Delaney, vice president of referee operations and director of officials for the NBA, sees something special in officials with military backgrounds.

Teamwork and trust are two qualities he believes stand out in veterans — and they are fundamental to success in sports officiating, Delaney said.

“There is no better group to mimic than the military,” said Delaney, who did not serve in the military, but worked in law enforcement before joining the NBA officiating staff.

“We can’t equate basketball to the battlefield, but we can learn from them in terms of how they operate,” Delaney said.

One of the biggest takeaways from the military experience is learning the “why” of a mission. The concept of knowing “why” something must be done helps officials with execution and understanding of what they do on the court, Delaney said.

“The concept of who will benefit by knowing replaces need to know,” Delaney said. “We learn from our experiences. The military learns from theirs, and grows as a result.”

He said veterans and referees share another quality: “They see things that are bigger than themselves. It’s service before self and that is implicit to effectively defending our freedoms and serving a high-quality-officiated game.”


The ranks of sports officials are peppered with many former members of the U.S. military. They officiate kids’ games, all the way up through the pros. Does military experience provide unique training and lessons that translate well to sports officiating? Are there things other officials can learn from their fellow officials with military backgrounds?

Referee magazine went looking for answers by interviewing a number of officials who made the transition, learned some things along the way and shared tips on why and how a military background gives sports officials a special edge.

Here are a few of the stories of sports officials who served their country:


matt-boland-bio“Without a doubt there are parallels between what it takes to be in the military and what it takes to become and work as an NBA referee,” said NBA referee Matt Boland. “There is no doubt in my mind that my time in the Army helped to shape me as a person and gave me the foresight and self belief to pursue such a lofty goal as refereeing in the NBA.”

Both the military and officiating are in Boland’s blood: His father Dave was a retired brigadier general and a longtime high school soccer and basketball official in Connecticut. His older brother, Tom, was a full colonel and helicopter pilot in the Connecticut Army National Guard. 

After attending a small prep school in northeast Connecticut, Boland’s next stop was the University of Connecticut.

“Even though I came from a military family, I had no real plans at that time to join the service,” Boland said.

After a self-admittedly unfocused and overwhelming year and a half at UConn, Boland found himself at a crossroads.

“I was going nowhere fast and I knew something had to change,” Boland said. “In January 1987, with some family guidance, I decided to become the third member of the family to join the service.” Two months later, he was on his way to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. 

The 13 weeks in basic training challenged him physically and mentally.

“I found out I was capable of things I never could have imagined,” Boland said. “Basic training opened up my eyes to see that I could do anything I put my mind to and that I wasn’t going to be satisfied leading a mundane life.”

Upon his return to Connecticut after basic training, Boland entered his third year on local IAABO Board 8 with a new focus and big goals.

Officer candidate school (OCS) provided another unique set of challenges that further helped to shape his character and leadership skills. Boland recalled one particularly memorable day: “After about two weeks of training, we each were placed in various leadership roles. They had our entire group together in a large classroom (approximately 75 candidates in the class). We had become accustomed to expect the unexpected as we were constantly being pushed out of our comfort zones. We were told that one by one we each were to get up in front of the class and tell the group who we felt were the top three candidates in the class and who the bottom three were and why. Suffice to say that made for an interesting afternoon,” Boland said.

Based on how the exercise proceeded, he learned it was more important to be respected than liked. “That is a direct parallel to being an NBA referee,” he said. “If you are looking to be liked, you are in the wrong profession. You want to be respected.”

In the summer of 1989, Boland was commissioned as a second lieutenant, moving into serving as a platoon leader.

“Being 23 years old and standing in front of a platoon with some of the soldiers being twice my age was further evidence for me that I needed to earn their respect,” he said. “I would do that over time by showing competence, consistency and fairness. As referees, that is exactly the same goal. It takes time. You earn respect through consistent work in many highly emotional situations.

“In many cases, my soldiers had more expertise and experience in the areas that we were tasked to do, such as working with explosives. One of our refereeing mottos is to referee to our level of experience. I learned that concept early on as a platoon leader. If I tried to act like I knew it all and had all the answers, I would lose the respect of my soldiers. The same mindset applies to being an NBA referee. We work hard to have all the answers to all the challenges we are presented with every game, but we also have to be able to admit a mistake or acknowledge we need help from our partners,” Boland said.

When it comes to teamwork, Boland saw his platoon was only as strong as the weakest link.

“It was up to the platoon to train and bring every soldier up to speed,” he said. “Each one of us had to carry our weight. We had to count on each other to perform our assigned role consistently in high pressure situations. As NBA referees, we walk on the floor each night as a team. We may be a mix of levels of experience, but we fail and succeed together. We talk about putting our priorities in the order of game, crew, self. Any variation from that order and we will not be successful and we will not do justice to the game or our profession.

“The military provided me with the boost, direction and confidence to believe I could one day work in the NBA. The NBA is a lofty goal. It’s tough to get there. You must have a plan, and even then there are no guarantees. But with no plan, you have no shot. The military gave me the structure on how to do it,” Boland said.

Because there is criticism in both the military and officiating in the NBA, mental toughness is very important.

“In the NBA environment, you are hearing a lot of people disagreeing with your work, so you must have confidence and a belief in yourself,” Boland said.

Boland referenced an obstacle course during training that required tougher and tighter steps as the trainee neared the top, along with a leap at the last rung of a ladder. “Somehow you do it. You have to believe in yourself. You see yourself in a different light,” he observed.

The military trains, trains and trains some more. “Everything we did was to practice and prepare for the real thing. We would stress the importance of detailed work. Lack of focus on detail could cost lives one day. As referees, we spend tremendous amounts of time preparing to work at our best. We are constantly preparing and maintaining ourselves physically to be able to keep up with the greatest athletes in the world. We have to be in position on every play to get the calls right. We are preparing by studying our game tapes looking for things we do right for reinforcement and for things we need to do better,” Boland said.

The military has an after-action review (AAR), which is similar to a postgame report.

“Every time we completed a training exercise, we did an AAR,” Boland said. “We would take a comprehensive look at all the things we did well and all the things we need to focus more on. This was a critical part of the overall training process. We would be our own worst critic and we weren’t afraid to be open and honest with each other. This is exactly what NBA referees do after each game they work. We drill down deep and we do so with an open mind among the crew to improve.”


bob-mcelwee-bioBob McElwee loves football. He played through his years at the U.S. Naval Academy, and as he transitioned to flight school as the new Air Force Academy was being built outside Denver in 1955. He kept playing for three years after that. He hadn’t thought of officiating football up to that point. But once he hung up the spikes, he found there was a void on Saturday afternoons.

“I started off officiating midget kids, and loved the games. I was bored to tears on Saturdays,” he said. His love for football helped him start down the officiating path, but the NFL veteran’s (27 years) military background laid the foundation for success. There are certain skills that are paramount in officiating success, according to McElwee, including discipline, integrity and judgment under pressure.

“Some can be taught and some you just have,” he said. The military helps on the teaching side.

“Officials must be disciplined to prepare for games, similar to the military,” he said. The military also teaches leadership, which applies to officiating: “As the referee, you are in charge of all the guys on the field, and you have to make sure the game is officiated fairly and kept under control,” McElwee said.

He related a unique situation that brought all his military preparedness into play during a game in Washington, D.C., following the anthrax scares post-9/11.

“There had been the anthrax scares in D.C. Something was being sprayed on the sidelines. You train to handle these types of situations, both in the military and as an NFL official. First, I stopped the game. I asked for a chemical engineer to figure out what was burning the players’ eyes,” McElwee said. “We weren’t going to continue the game until I knew what the stuff was.”

Behind the team benches, there had been a fight in the stands. Security had used pepper spray to subdue the combatants, and the mist had blown onto the field by large field fans.

“That’s why the players couldn’t see,” McElwee said.

Once he got the information he needed, he proceeded with the game.

Later, McElwee got a call from a friend and colleague who was an admiral in the Navy. “He called me and said, ‘Bob, this is what we trained for. I’m proud of you,’” McElwee said.


luis-martinez-bioLuis Martinez is a retired major from the U.S. Army, having served 23 years (14 as an officer and nine years enlisted). He’s officiated volleyball for 20 years, 10 at the collegiate level, and worked both the 2013 and 2014 Women’s Volleyball National Championships as a line judge. It was an incident while playing volleyball in the military that prompted Martinez to get into officiating. While stationed in Germany, he mouthed off to one of the officials and immediately received a red card, which cost his team a point. He thought to himself, “I can do this,” and started officiating military intramurals. When he returned to Oklahoma, he began officiating high school volleyball and basketball.

Martinez said he believes his military background helps in volleyball officiating, particularly at the higher levels, because it adds presence to his demeanor.

“If you look good and are fit, when you walk on the court, you exude confidence and the coach feels good about your presence,” he said. “You’ve won 60-70 percent of the fight right there. It’s about the appearance. You should look the part.

“At higher level games, you face situations where you must remain calm under intense pressure. You may think to yourself, ‘Why did I blow that call?’ So you have to take a deep breath and move on from there,” Martinez said. The military gives you the background to handle those situations more effectively.

Trust and teamwork are important in the military and officiating. “You must trust your partner. Each official has their area. Trust that he or she will make the right call,” Martinez said.

Martinez also spoke about the concept of situational awareness. In a basketball game, for example, a player may react after being slighted by an opponent and you must be aware of those nuances. If you didn’t get the first foul, there might be retaliation. This is similar to military incidents in the field.

“I pay attention to those little things,” Martinez said.

Character is another defining characteristic for both military and officiating endeavors, Martinez said. That includes showing empathy and discipline, and being approachable.

“On the stand, for example, sometimes you need to make eye contact with the coaches and communicate that way without the coach having to yell at you,” he said, noting those non-verbal cues.

Martinez sees the extra need for preparation in the military and officiating. In the military, routes are analyzed before expeditions. In officiating, to be successful, a strong knowledge of the rules is required.

Martinez said that both fields mandate that you “give 100 percent all the time at every level and continue to educate yourself on the latest techniques, rules and regulations.”


leroy-richardson-bioLeroy Richardson found himself walking through shopping malls with his wife after he exited the Navy, doing basketball traveling signals.

“Really? I mean, really, do you have to do traveling calls in the mall?” she would ask him. Of course he did. Previously, while in the Navy, it was practicing his salute. He had it down with his hand and cap just right, getting the signal perfect. From the Navy to the NBA, Leroy was just taking his professional mechanics to the next level.

Richardson served 12 years in the Navy, officiated D-I college basketball while on active duty, and was hired into the NBA a year after leaving the military, in 1995. He sees a lot of parallels between his military and officiating careers: concepts he outlines as 1A and 1B.

One-A, he terms the team concept. As a sailor out of Virginia Beach, Va., Richardson received accolades, something that wouldn’t have been possible without his team.

“You need to buy into the bigger team message, whether you are in the military or you are a referee. Even if you give maximum effort while thinking as an individual in a team environment, no accolades may come. You must put the team goals ahead of the individual. The mission is the biggest thing — focus on the organization/team concept, and then individual awards come,” he said.

One-B, is standard-setting. Richardson said that to a fault, the military sets tough standards.

“It’s almost unrelenting,” Richardson said. “It can spill over to your personal life because you can’t let things go and not everyone adheres to the same standards you do. You check, recheck, dot the i’s and cross the t’s. If you don’t, your mission can be compromised because lives are at stake. That never leaves you, whether it’s in your personal or refereeing life. Setting high standards is important to success in the military and officiating basketball.”

Ironically, Richardson said frustration can set in due to the high level of standards. With high expectations for your officiating partners and the fact that referees, like the military, come from different backgrounds and different parts of the country, it’s important to get crews on the same page.

“In the military, step A is followed by B, then C. With referees it could jump from A to C to E. To minimize that at our level, good leaders know how to give a clear vision and solid direction. When you trust leadership, you get buy-in,” he said.

Team-first and mission priority are critical to success in both fields, and you must “recognize the people who run through walls for you,” he said. The structure/discipline/standards necessary for success can lead to frustrations for people who haven’t mastered those qualities, particularly if accountability is lacking, according to Richardson.

Richardson said many of his best friends developed during his time in the military. “You can count on them,” he said. “It’s not just a job. It affects your life.” Similarly, you want to be a good partner on the court — trustworthy and accountable. “That translates from the military to the basketball floor, particularly when things get hot and heavy and during those cool-down moments after the game,” Richardson said.

odney Mott can relate to Richardson walking through the mall practicing mechanics. He’s been there, too. He found himself using mirrors, though.

“My friends would (say), ‘Dude, those are gang signs, we can’t be walking around with you,’” Mott said, laughing. The practice and repetition were ingrained from his military experience — three years active duty in the Navy and three years in the reserves.

He took that attention to detail learned in the Navy with him to officiating.

“I didn’t start officiating until after I left the Navy, and paid a lot of attention to detail,” Mott said. “I would watch others and pick up a lot of little things. The military teaches you that attention to detail. It helped me learn the profession of refereeing better.”

Mott played basketball while in the Navy, then went to San Diego State before moving to Los Angeles, where he saw Magic Johnson playing in a summer league.

Mott went on to approach Darell Garretson, Joe Crawford and Dick Bavetta about how to get into the business. One area of his military background that Mott said helps him today is understanding how to respectfully pose questions to an authority figure. Also, advancement is similar in the military and NBA officiating — it’s a slow process, and the best person isn’t always the one who gets the opportunity, he said.

“In both areas, it’s very competitive and moving up can depend a lot on what people are looking for,” Mott said. “You can’t just jump to a higher rank. You have to take the right steps.”


david-coleman-bio“Taking care of the troops” applies in the military and in officiating. David Coleman applied that principle during his 22 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, and in officiating management positions (five seasons at the NFL as director of officiating and one season as vice president of football officiating at the Pac-12 Conference).

His leadership training in the military, along with the experience he gained organizing teams, helped immensely as he has built crews. The military also helped Coleman establish standards of accountability, develop and implement programs to train, develop, evaluate and manage groups of officials. In Army jargon: “We’re taking care of the troops.”

“My military background provided me with opportunities to become comfortable with and proficient in all aspects of leadership and responsibility. The Army is unique in that it prepares young soldiers — officers and non-commissioned officers — to lead and be responsible for the lives of others,” Coleman explained.

Coleman had a successful onfield career officiating football in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC), the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Mid-American Conference (MAC). He was a referee-in-training with the MEAC. While still on active duty at the time as the G1/Adjutant General of the 101st Airborne Division/Air Assault (top HR officer in the division), he received a call from the conference supervisor, Paul Glenn, on a Thursday. He asked Coleman if he had his white hat ready.

“Of course I did,” Coleman said. “He gave me the assignment to lead a split crew (MEAC/SWAC) at a Southern vs. Florida A&M game in Tallahassee, Fla., that Saturday night. It was my first game as a referee in a college game. My military experience gave me the mental edge to step up and successfully carry out the duties and responsibilities of leading a crew in a nationally televised game on ESPN. From that day forward, I was a referee in the MEAC.”

Coleman was first exposed to football officiating in the intramural program at West Point. After graduating, he continued to play sports in the Army (volleyball, baseball, softball, flag football) and did some coaching (basketball and flag football). After several years on active duty, he decided to again try officiating. He officiated softball and football, and became comfortable with the responsibility of officiating games.

After completing a staff assignment at West Point, Coleman was transferred to the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany. There he officiated softball, flag football and youth football for the Army’s recreation programs. He also officiated Department of Defense high school football (NCAA rules) and German-American football (NFL rules) throughout the country. German-American Football was a forerunner of NFL Europe.

“My leadership skill was tested when I was elected president of the area football officiating organization with responsibility for a staff of more than 50 officials,” he said.

While assigned to the Pentagon, Coleman met and became affiliated with distinguished officials in the Washington D.C. area (Tom Beard, Johnny Grier, Larry Upson, Larry Hill, Scott Green, Ben Montgomery, Jim Duke and R. Melvin Jackson of the Eastern Board of Officials in Washington, D.C.). 

“In that capacity, I contributed to the development of up-and-coming officials, including future NFL officials Boris Cheek, Greg Steed and Scott Edwards,” he said.

Those connections, beginning with the military, helped Coleman’s career take off. After leaving the field due to health reasons, he was hired by the NFL as an instant replay assistant. That experience led to his opportunity to work for the NFL as director of officiating.

Coleman’s work with the NFL helped prepare him to lead the officiating program at the Pac-12 Conference. “Here, I am developing best-in-class officiating programs across football, basketball and our other sports,” he observed.

Coleman developed leadership and connections, got the right training that he could then share with others, and built management skills from serving in the military. Bit by bit, those skills served him well over his football officiating career, as it has many other sports officials who have served their country in the military.

Dave Simon, Hartland, Wis., is a former basketball official. His newest book, “Whistle in a Haystack,” with D-I college basketball official Rick Hartzell, can be ordered by contacting him directly at davidsimon15@hotmail.com.

Features – Eight ways to never get another game


By Tim Sloan

Want to keep your officiating career on track? Here are a few things to avoid.

The pages of Referee often feature the do’s for landing the next big game and breaking into the next level. But equally important to furthering an officiating career is avoiding the don’ts — the things that draw negative attention to ourselves and make it harder to fill our officiating dance card.

For sure, there are “special causes” that can cut back our assignments. Slugging the coach, ratting out the concession stand to the health department or parking in the handicapped spot all come to mind. But let’s examine the laundry list of boneheaded decisions that some of our guild routinely pull — even if they don’t realize it. They embarrass/annoy/piss off our assigners to the point that the Maytag repairman looks like a workaholic in contrast. If you want to spend more time doing less as an official, remember to include some of these gambits in your repertoire:

1. Dump assignments OK, everybody now and then has a work commitment come up on short notice. Hey, sometimes your grandmother dies — but three times? The best assigners know enough to hedge against the unexpected and keep a small stable of super subs, but you don’t want to test their patience and get them writing your name in pencil. Honor your commitments or find another avocation.

2. Double-book yourself Once or twice a year, I see emails — dripping with angst and self-flagellation — from officials who realized they took two games on the same day and have to punt one. Some actually offer the “better” game because it was the second one offered. It can happen, but when “disorganization” becomes a pattern, your growth prospects are about as good as a three-legged zebra’s. A cunning variation of that strategy is accepting a game and then being offered a better assignment for the same day: The perp takes the second with the excuse he or she hasn’t received a contract yet on the original assignment.

3. Make a liar out of Werner Heisenberg The German physicist’s Uncertainty Principle is that there’s a limit to knowing two related properties of a particle at the same time. How, then, do you beg off of the mandatory clinic because you need root canal work but get caught sipping a cold one at the Cubs’ game at the same time? It’s much, much easier to keep the truth straight than lies. If the demands of keeping up your officiating commitments don’t jive with your social life, stop kidding yourself and other people. Choose one or the other.

4. Defraud your assigner
I remember sitting in the locker room one time, 45 minutes before a Thursday night college game, nervously waiting for half the crew to show up. The referee, umpire and back judge were already 75 minutes late when they finally strolled in, already in uniform. Seems the high school game they just worked ran a little long, and traffic was a bear. I also remember the game ending 86-21 and there being three misapplications of rules that I couldn’t talk people into changing. While officiating isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, it should become the only thing in your life once you earn someone’s trust, commit to an assignment and back your car out of the driveway. Nowadays, they talk about dressing one level above your customer in a business meeting; the corollary is treating your assignment with as much commitment as the people playing in it. Give them your best rather than what you have left because your narcissism kicked in again.

5. Be a prima donna When you’re acting the part I described in the previous segment, it’s important not to hire a skywriter to remind people. Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right. I once worked a soccer match with a guy who declared that he wasn’t leaving without his game fee. It didn’t matter to him that the team treasurer had been unexpectedly hospitalized and a mailed check had already been promised. So, there were the club chairman and president on their hands and knees, emptying their pockets of crumpled bills and loose change to pay Tony so the rest of us could hit the road. Sure, there are all sorts of subplots to go with anecdotes like that one, but if your pattern becomes being a pain in the rear about your definition of “principles,” either you’re wrong for the league or the league’s wrong for you — and it will only play out one way.

6. Undermine your fellow officials Now, I’m pretty good with computers and know how most of the thingies work for the TV, but I don’t understand Facebook, Twitter and whatever else. Oh, I know what you do with them; I just don’t understand why it’s anybody’s business what music I like or, more to the point, what I thought of the referees in last night’s game at state. Somewhere, too many officials have concluded that criticizing another official is protected speech on social media for which they cannot be held accountable. Maybe it’s “free” — from the perspective that you can’t go to jail for it — but it’s very costly if you think it will help your career. Let’s see: It brings your objectivity into question; it antagonizes prospective partners; it makes your assigner question your motives; and it erases any chance you’ll have for the benefit of the doubt, should you ever need it. Here’s a rule of thumb: If HR might get involved if you said the same thing at work that you just wrote about another official on Facebook, you probably shouldn’t have written it. The officiating community has a way of running off bad eggs.

Be humble and empathize a bit. There’s a difference between being right in how you handle an assignment and being dead right.

7. Be a high-maintenance partner This story, just in: An officiating assignment should be something you look forward to for the game itself, the events surrounding it and the officials with whom you work. Your crewmates should be thinking the same thing. Having said that, the Apollo 11 astronauts — for all their fame — were not a close-knit trio, tending to go their separate ways after work. The Apollo 12 crew, by comparison, was a 24/7 party, right down to their matching gold Corvettes. The Apollo 7 crew alienated themselves so thoroughly the ground controllers mused about having them splash down in a hurricane. A crew — any kind of a crew — can function well together without necessarily even liking each other if they can keep their focus on the prime objective. Make no mistake, however, that crew leaders — any kind of crew leaders — have some say in crew selection. If you’re the type of crewmate who develops a rep — from your toenail clipping to your inflated ego — of grating on others, you will find your opportunities and schedule starting to dwindle.

Let’s see … oh, yes; there’s one other item on the list which bears mention:

8. Suck We can look at most of the previous items on this list as “qualifiers” (or not) to work games. Generally, if you have only limited symptoms of some of the diseases covered, they might be tolerated if you show an ability to part the waters once out between the lines. General Patton wasn’t revered by everyone in the Third Army, but he was good at winning battles, so they went along with him. Hey, many of us played for a coach we loathed, but we finished 9-2 and a lot was forgotten. That being the case, there is no more sure-fire way to ruin a career than by becoming a certified liability. To achieve that, try these time-tested behaviors: Don’t work at the rules. Set aside sanctioned mechanics in favor of your own. Don’t keep up your conditioning. Be a distraction. Let the teams get to you. Let the fans get to you. Let your significant other get to you. Let your pride get to you. Don’t attend clinics because you “won’t learn anything.” Consider your own perspective to be sacrosanct. Don’t consider others better than yourself. Believe it’s more important to protect yourself than to serve the game.

Every event in your officiating career is an experience — whether it’s a positive one or negative is up to you. You start heading down the road to ruin when you make too many experiences negative for you, those around you or your assigner. Most officials who I see fail in some sense have a false and sad sense of entitlement when it comes right down to it. They burn out because the combination of their intellect, athleticism, character and personality isn’t suited to the level they’re trying to work — and they don’t deal with it well. Sometimes that happens in Pop Warner, sometimes in Division II. Whatever the case, if you’re driven by the notion, “It can’t be me,” it tends to lead to behaviors mentioned above, alienating you from all your potential benefactors.

Becoming a better official and thereby improving assignments is a process which takes time to complete and can only be escalated so much. You may not have the tools to reach the level you desire, but you certainly have the ability to make it worse for yourself through poor motives, poor choices and poor actions.

Being hardworking and responsible as an official guarantees nothing, but placing yourself above it all guarantees everything.

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 10/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Catch This If You Can


It’s a question fans have debated for years: What’s the hardest thing to do in sports? Hit a baseball? Shoot par in golf? Score a goal in ice hockey? Drive a race car?

Now, there’s another possibility: determining what’s a catch in football.

The challenge is greatest in the NFL, as evidenced by several high-profile plays in recent seasons that have led to head-scratching, outright outrage and rulebook tweaks. Still, the question persists: What’s a catch?

As John Branch of the New York Times wrote, “Where once the catch was football’s version of obscenity — we know it when we see it — it became a play to be dissected from all angles and the slowest possible speeds.”

In other words, paralysis by analysis.

“That’s a good way to put it, but I don’t think the rule is all that complicated,” explained Rogers Redding, CFO national coordinator of football officials. “I think the fact that we can slow everything down now and see a blade of grass up to a gnat’s eyelash has made it more difficult to understand.”

The advent of replay as an officiating tool and advances in technology have helped fuel the debate. “I would say the catch/no catch is in the top two or three for reviews, instant replays and stoppages of the game,” Redding said. “The big ones are scoring plays. Did the ball break the plane of the goalline? Was the ball fumbled? And catch/no catch.”

But as Redding noted, “sometimes it’s all (of those situations) on one play.”

Add the remarkable talents of today’s athletes and you have a mix that often results in confusion and controversy.

Although when it was introduced, replay was not universally embraced by officials, it has become their best friend. “I used to tell the men, ‘Look, if you make a mistake on the field on Sunday afternoon and it’s corrected, you’ll feel a lot better than me making a phone call to you on Tuesday and chewing you out because you blew the call,’” said Art McNally, NFL director of officiating from 1968-91. “Replay has been a help to the officials because the real, real tough catch can be ruled complete or incomplete. That’s the beauty of replay.”

The catch/no catch rule continues to be a hot-button topic among fans, players, coaches and administrators. In fact, the NFL convened a gathering of former and current receivers last winter to discuss the league’s catch rules and to determine whether the rule language needed to be tweaked.

“We had two groups come in,” said Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, at a meeting of NFL owners in March. “(We invited) former players Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Randy Moss, Steve Largent and Chad Lewis. And we reached out to current players. Jordy Nelson joined us. And then we had a group of former head coaches, front office people and game officials.

The consensus was the rule was adequate (although the 2016 NFL rulebook does include new language that attempts to clarify the rule). “We have to continue to use video and show examples and teach and educate, not just for the media and fans but the coaches and our players and game officials,” Blandino said.


Big Games, Big Calls

One of the NFL’s most famous pass plays, involving Tampa Bay receiver Bert Emmanuel in the playoffs following the 1999 season, resulted in a rule change. The St. Louis Rams were leading, 11-6, with 51 seconds remaining when Tampa Bay quarterback Shawn King hit a diving Emmanuel for an apparent 12-yard gain on a second-and-23 play. However the play was reviewed by referee Bill Carollo. When he noticed that the ball made contact with the turf, Carollo overturned the call. Following two incomplete passes, the Rams took possession and ran out the clock.

“Jerry Markbreit was my replay person, probably the most respected official in the country, and he stopped (the game),” Carollo recalled. “We talked about it and it was clear-cut the ball touched the ground. We ruled it as a trap, that it touched the ground.”

If the same play happened today, Emmanuel would be credited with a catch as the NFL changed the rule before the next season. “From that point on, we allowed the ball to touch the ground, but you had to maintain control,” Carollo explained. “We said ‘OK, if this play happens again, and he doesn’t lose control, we’re going to give him a catch even though it touched the ground.’ So that caused the first rule change and we’ve been trying to tweak what a catch is ever since.”

The controversy surrounding that overturn quickly became personal. Following the contest, Carollo and Markbreit received telephoned death threats. Carollo had to take his children out of school for a few days.

“It was controversial but we were comfortable with that decision,” Carollo said. “To the credit of the NFL, they made a rule change. They thought it probably would be better if that type of play is a catch.

“We were pretty strict … don’t let it hit the ground,” he continued. “Now we’re letting it hit the ground, but don’t lose control. Now we’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt if we feel you’re a runner. That’s true judgment. You can say common sense, but it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Did he really have it long enough?”

Still another memorable play came in the 2006 NFL playoffs, when the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Indianapolis Colts. With 5:26 remaining, Troy Polamalu made an apparent diving interception of a Peyton Manning pass, tumbled with it and got up to run. As he rose, Polamalu juggled the ball, but he recovered and was credited with a catch. Colts’ coach Tony Dungy challenged the call. Referee Pete Morelli overturned the call via replay and the Colts maintained possession.

Catch-This-If-You-Can-QuoteThe following day, the NFL announced that Morelli should have let the call on the field stand. Mike Pereira, then the league’s vice president of officiating, said in a statement, “(Polamalu) maintained possession long enough to establish a catch. Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch.”

Unfortunately, rule changes did not prove to be nirvana. Early in the 2010 season, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson appeared to score the winning touchdown late in a game at Chicago. Johnson leapt, grabbed the ball and came to the ground in the end zone. As Johnson rose, the ball slipped out of his grasp momentarily and replay overturned the call.

A play in the 2014 playoffs is still being debated. Dallas receiver Dez Bryant made an acrobatic play to seemingly catch a pass inside the Green Bay one yardline. But upon rolling over onto his chest, the ball eluded Bryant’s hand. Once again, replay changed the call from catch to no catch.

“When you go to the ground to make the catch you have to hold on to (the ball) throughout that entire process,” Blandino said. “When Dez hits the ground with his left arm, the ball hits the ground.”

A Definite Definition?

So exactly what is a catch?

“The easiest way I can describe the rule is control plus two feet plus time,” Blandino said. “Once we get there (control plus two feet), then we get into the gray area of time.”

The concept of time first showed up in the rulebook in 1938, it was clarified in 1942 and it’s been the basic foundation of the rule since, he explained. “The rulebook definition of time is ‘have the ball long enough to clearly become a runner.’ So what does that mean? That means you have the ability to ward off, avoid contact by a defender and advance the football. That was previously defined as ‘performing an act common to the game.’

“What the time element does is allow the onfield official to rule the bang-bang play incomplete and be more consistent,” Blandino said. “And what we refer to as a bang-bang play is control plus two feet and contact that occurs simultaneous or almost simultaneous (with arrival of the ball). The key part of the rule allows for greater consistency on the field because slow motion replay distorts that time element on the field. Now we’re debating, ‘Did he have it long enough or did he not?’”

High school’s definition of a catch was tweaked in 2013 to address a situation in which a player with a grasp on the ball was pushed or carried out of bounds before coming to the ground. But even with that change, it’s a far simpler rule.

According to the NFHS rulebook, “A catch is the act of establishing player possession of a live ball which is in flight, and first contacting the ground inbounds while maintaining possession of the ball or having the forward progress of the player in possession stopped while the opponent is carrying the player who is in possession and inbounds.”

If you’re thinking that it takes someone with an advanced physics degree to rule on catches, take comfort in knowing even those close to the game aren’t 100 percent certain. Carollo, who is the coordinator of football officials for a consortium of collegiate conferences that includes the Big Ten, gets a small dose of satisfaction when he asks for coaches’ opinions of controversial plays.

“I always take those tough plays, put them on video,” Carollo explained. “I give them the same angle that the covering onfield official has and tell the coaches, ‘OK, you vote. Tell me, is this a catch? Is this a touchdown?’ And they go, ‘Whoa, this is really tough.’”

In his meeting with NFL owners, Blandino admitted as much. “We’re ultimately going to have plays that look like a catch but isn’t by definition of a rule,” he said. “And most often, those are the plays in which a receiver hits the ground with the ball, bobbles it, then it eventually squirts loose.”

Last year, apparent touchdowns involving the Bengals’ Tyler Eifert and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman were ruled incomplete because they lost a grip on the ball as they were going to the ground. Both calls caused uproars. Eifert’s touchdown was overturned on a fourth-and-one play from Baltimore’s two yardline when he lunged for the goalline. The ball broke the plane of the goalline, but he lost the ball when he hit the ground.

“When we talk about going to the ground, again, it’s control plus two feet plus time,” Blandino said. “If I don’t have that while upright and I’m going to the ground, the standard becomes, hold on to the ball when you land. 

Catch-This-If-You-Can-End-Zone“If he’s not a runner before going to the ground,” Blandino continued, “the requirement becomes, again, survive the ground. So if you’re not a runner prior to going to the ground in the process of making that catch, you must maintain control when you land.”

Carollo agreed. “That’s one of our most difficult calls — understanding exactly when the player transitions from a receiver to a runner,” he said. “It sounds simple. You know what a runner is when he’s going up the middle (on a running play), but (on a pass play) I’m saying there’s a split second of time when you’re not a receiver anymore and now you become a runner.”

“There are many times when a ruling on the field will stand, but we’re not making it a definitive declaration that it’s either a catch or not a catch,” Blandino explained. “We’re saying the evidence doesn’t allow us to make a definitive ruling.”

More Than Catch/No Catch

Making the catch/no catch rule even more difficult to understand is its correlation to another key rule: targeting.

“That’s an important point,” Carollo said. “Everyone loses sight of that. You’re always going to be a receiver and you have to hang on to the ball, but if you catch it, turn and make a football move, change your direction, reach for the goalline, reach for a first down — something other than the process of the catch — we can put you into a runner category. The problem is, if we transition you from a receiver to a runner you lose your protection for targeting (for a high hit).”

“This rule is directly tied to the defenseless player rule,” Blandino added. “So the amount of time required to gain possession is the same amount of time you’re protected as a defenseless receiver. If we shorten that time to gain possession, we’re shortening the time the player is protected from hits to the head and neck area.”

You might say that’s another catch in the rules.

George Hammond is a veteran football official from York, Pa.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – ‘IT’ Runs in the Family


By Peter Jackel

Mariscal siblings Eduardo, Felisha, Alejandro and Apolinar have found success at the highest levels of soccer officiating.

Nestled between the San Diego Bay and the scenic splendor of the coastal mountain foothills in Southern California are the sprawling sun-kissed expanses of Chula Vista, Calif. Standing inconspicuously in a typical neighborhood lined with palm trees in the city is a home that was broken by definition, but beyond loving and warm by nature. And within its confines, a future first family of four soccer officials was nurtured by a single parent with an iron fist and a compassionate heart.

It was in a five-bedroom cream-colored house at 341 “L” Street where Luz Aurora Mariscal raised her four sons and one daughter as a single parent with all the conviction and love that flowed within her 5-foot-1 frame. Juggling career balls that involved cleaning houses, working with disabled children and taking on physical and occupational therapy, Luz was a master at maximizing the precious few hours of quality time she had with her children — Julian, Alejandro, Felisha, Eduardo and Apolinar. All five would grow into respected, productive, beloved adults under the guidance of this light-skinned woman who could communicate so much with just her brown eyes. And four of them would become elite professional officials, empowered by the excellence instilled into them by their mother.


alejandro-on-felisha-updatedAlejandro on Felisha

“Felisha has a unique personality. She has the perfect mix of tenacity, kindness and humor. She is a person with vision and persistence to achieve her goals. I could see these tendencies since we were children. She was the only girl in the family, so she would always follow along and wanted to play with us, the boys, regardless of the activity. Her competitive spirit would always show. … Felisha is a remarkably passionate person, always doing her best whether in sports, school, work, coaching or refereeing.”

Meet the Mariscals

Julian was the first born, arriving in 1979. He was the only Mariscal who did not pursue soccer officiating, opting instead to use his skills in another realm. He works as a welder and fitter for General Dynamics NASSCO, which designs and builds ships in San Diego.

“I think he was the most talented guy of all of us,” Eduardo said. “Everybody in the family thought he was the most talented and athletic.”

Alejandro, known to his siblings as Alex, followed in 1980. He was the first Mariscal to pursue soccer officiating, encouraged his siblings to follow his lead, and serves to this day as their mentor. He is perhaps the busiest of the four siblings, having worked in Major League Soccer, international friendlies, the North American Soccer League and the United Soccer League.

“I consider Alex to be the leader of our referee family,” Felisha said.

Felisha came along in 1982. Described by Alejandro as having “the perfect mix of tenacity, kindness and humor,” she has achieved the highest certification among her siblings. Ironically, Felicia, a FIFA International assistant referee who recently became eligible to officiate International Men’s Friendly matches, perhaps had the most difficult journey ascending through the officiating ranks.

The family was filled out in 1984 by twin brothers Eduardo and Apolinar, the latter of whom answers to Polo, and is the youngest by five minutes. They are certified to work MLS lines and continue to follow their older siblings to the top.

“With Apolinar and Eduardo being identical twins, when I see them for the first time, I wait until they are together to say hello and call them, ‘A&E,’” said Craig Lowry, who has worked with Alex as an MLS and PRO assistant referee and has trained Apolinar and Eduardo as U.S. Soccer ARs. “After speaking with them for a few minutes, I can tell who is who.”

All four have progressed to such an extent as officials that Nasser Sarfarez, director of referee instruction in Southern California, proudly notes, “The Southern California referee community realized that The Fabulous Four are here to stay.”

“It’s common to have two (siblings),” said Arturo Angeles, the California south director of instruction for referees and a national instructor and assessor for U.S. Soccer. “But to have four and to have them at the professional level is very rare. Four is highly, highly unusual.”

What elevates the Mariscals to even greater heights is the quality of human beings they are. That’s the one aspect that supersedes their officiating prowess.

“Immediately,” Lee Popejoy, a national instructor and assessor, answered when asked when he envisioned future elite status for the Mariscals as officials. “They’ve always been serious, they’ve always been focused, they’ve always asked questions, they always listened … they were people who really wanted to become involved. They did what you would expect a top-level student to do.”

A rush of words regarding the Mariscals come to mind for Dr. Herb Silva, a national referee instructor and assessor for U.S Soccer.

“When I think of the Mariscal officiating family,” he said, “the following observations come to mind: They are committed, professional, respectful, competent, humble, loyal, flexible, dependable, knowledgeable and trustworthy.”

Sandra Serafini, PRO women’s referee manager and former official, agrees that the Mariscals are special.

“They take the concept of sibling rivalry and completely turn it on its head,” Serafini said. “I’ve never seen a family that propels each other to be the absolute highest version of what they can be, whether that be with their fitness, their professionalism, their officiating, their careers, their lives.”


felisha-on-alejandro-updatedFelisha on Alejandro

“Alex is always checking in with each of us, making sure we are OK and is always asking us how our games went, dissecting each play and call with us. Even though, the four of us were coaches at one point of our lives, I know that if I have questions about training or an injury, Alex is always there to reach out to for advice. He has a profound knowledge of sports injuries and has an incredible mind for sports science. He is a great older brother who is always looking after us on and off the field. After the passing of our father a year and half ago, Alex, along with our eldest brother Julian, was always there to ensure we were doing OK to get through that difficult and unsettling time in our lives. To this day he is still instrumental in helping us all process how to keep moving forward with the loss.”

Home Base

Their base was Luz. All her children responded to her unyielding insistence that there were always more gold nuggets of excellence to be chisled within the souls of each of them. She even questioned — and fully expected an answer — why the occasional A-minus one of them brought home couldn’t have been an A. She encouraged them to pursue high school sports and made an enormous daily commitment when Felisha, Eduardo and Apolinar went on to compete for international running legend Steve Scott at Cal State San Marcos. Nothing was too much for her kids.

“It was a very tight family,” Scott said. “In the early years, she would drive them to practice — and Chula Vista is a good hour’s drive away — and then drive home. And then she would come back and pick them up after practice in the evening and drive home again. So it was like four hours of driving a day.”

But then, Luz always went to great lengths for her children. To ensure her children were raised in a safe environment, Luz even bought a home one block east of Chula Vista High School to maximize their safety to the venue she deemed most essential in their lives. Education was everything to Luz. This is a woman who took pride in her work, however menial it could be, but damned if her children were ever going to scratch out a living, as her lot in life turned out to be.

“My mother, who only finished high school, managed to work three jobs to make sure we had everything we needed,” Eduardo said. “She always encouraged us to keep studying since she understood the struggles of working without a college degree.”

Throughout their pursuit of excellence, idyllic childhood memories linger for the Mariscal family. There are no ugly images of gangs infiltrating their streets as darkness descended. Fresh graffiti occasionally could be seen scrawled on some wall, but the city always seemed to have it painted it over by the following morning. Their high school exploits included soccer, basketball, boxing, volleyball, cross country and track, sports they managed to master while bringing home the straight-A grade reports that Luz expected.

“My mom has so many awards at home that she filled up a wall,” Alejandro said. “She kept all our trophies. Everyone was successful in athletics.”

The paradox is there wasn’t much to be found in the Mariscal household in terms of material possessions at the time voices of the Mariscal kids were echoing throughout the warm confines. But that never mattered. All that mattered was the bond that existed between the six inhabitants of 341 “L” Street and what a loving bond that was. Luz managed to scrape together just enough dollars to spring for a family trip to Disneyland every Christmas. There were the three movies for the price of one they would regularly watch together at The Vogue Theater in Chula Vista, with “Speed,” “Unbreakable,” “The Lion King” and “Dumb and Dumber” among the titles remaining prominent on their mental marquees.

On Dec. 31, the five children would routinely travel south of the border to celebrate the birthday of their father, Eduardo, a lawyer who remained a loving presence on the edges of their lives. Scores of cousins — “The last time I counted, we had 57,” Alejandro said — would also be on hand for the elder Eduardo’s birthday and the Mariscal clan has fond memories of bringing in the new year together within the Mexican border one day after their father’s birthday. The elder Eduardo, who died in September 2014, often traveled north to Chula Vista to be a face in the crowd during his children’s sporting events.

“My dad always tried to be there, at least in the big moments,” Alejandro said.

But if the elder Eduardo was a somewhat distant mentor, Luz was their compass. Her kids were raised with an enduring foundation, the basis of which could be found every Sunday morning at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, a mile north of their home.

“I wanted to teach them values, to have faith in God,” said Luz, who separated from the elder Eduardo in 1993 and then went through a divorce six years later. “I tried to set examples and we were a very united family. We would go to church as a family and we were always together at dinner time. I would bring them to houses I was cleaning and they would experience how hard it was. They needed to work to help at home.”

Luz wasn’t about to go through the motions as she carried out her exhausting professional housecleaning chores. As her children watched her carrying loads of laundry, triple-checking for one last speck of dust on a shelf and meticulously smoothing a bedspread until it was devoid of any wrinkles, the Mariscal children absorbed tendencies that they would one day apply to their soccer officiating careers.

“My mom was a very hard worker,” Apolinar said. “I think from a young age, we learned to value everything that we had. It was very limited and I knew that when my mom said, ‘Hey, you have to do your work, she was right. I could see her point. Even though we were very, very young, mentally, we were mature. It was never like, ‘Oh, she’s just being a mom.’ She was right.”

So when the day came when Luz informed her children they were old enough to take on jobs to help make ends meet, acceptance dwarfed any semblance of reluctance. Their time had arrived.

“My mother told my siblings and me that we either had to get a job at a fast food restaurant or start refereeing,” Eduardo said.


apolinar-on-eduardo-updatedApolinar on Eduardo

“When I think of my brother, Eduardo, the first thing that comes into my mind is persistency and work rate. Persistency and work rate have helped him accomplish many things. My brother understands that in life you will fail and it is OK if, and only if, you learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. From what I remember, I have never seen him quit anything in his life. When my brother sets a life goal he likes to pursue it until accomplished.”

The Bond of Refereeing

Soccer officiating had been swirling the air for the Mariscal kids, all of whom excelled in the sport at Chula Vista, since 2000. That’s when Bob Flores, soccer coach at Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista, informed his players that officials in the area were needed. Alejandro, a 20-year-old member of the team, was one of those who listened with both ears.

“He would always encourage us to be immersed in the game,” Alejandro said of Flores. “He would encourage us to jump to the next level as players or become referees. There were three on the team who became interested and, of those three, I was the only one who kept refereeing.”

Alejandro, who was also making deliveries for Kentucky Fried Chicken at this time, didn’t like working in the food business and steered his younger siblings to concentrate on officiating. He was picking up speed on that same course, attending a clinic and qualifying as a Level 8 referee. On the recommendation of Popejoy, Alejandro was invited to a youth camp in the summer of 2001 and was seen by Heroes Baghoumian, former FIFA referee and Cal South State Youth Administrator. The following year, Felisha, Eduardo and Apolinar joined him and, by 2004, all four were invited to attend a youth regional in Hawaii. The family bond was as tight as ever as they elevated their respective skills to a new level.

“It was the first time all four of us got to travel together,” Eduardo said. “It was a wonderful experience, refereeing the best teams in Region 4. It definitely helped having my siblings along since it made us all stronger. We had the trust to talk about our doubts, weaknesses and uncertainties and we were able to bring ourselves up.

“Refereeing really helped us bond together even more because, in this job, you need a lot of support from loved ones. The fact that we were all referees made it more special since we were able to understand what we were going through.”

With that mutual understanding came an epiphany.

“The camp as a whole,” Felisha said, “inspired us to look beyond what initially got us started in refereeing and to set bigger goals for ourselves — the hope as professional referees that someday, we might be at the FIFA level to represent the United States at international tournaments.”

The four Mariscals consistently impressed their superiors with their professionalism, competency and command. Furthermore, they were at least as fit as the athletes they officiated, with Scott’s demanding practices having elevating their physical states to a new level.

“What soccer officials have to go through to get into shape is nothing compared to what I put them through,” Scott said. “I think it really prepared them for moving into that profession. They would not be afraid of anything that soccer would throw at them.”

Just ask Safarez.

“Progress on the field continued as the siblings impressed the referee leaders in all areas of youth, adult, collegiate and professional soccer to receive an increased number of invitationals to major events,” Sarfarez said. “All four were the prime example of what fitness means to a soccer referee at a high level when they effortlessly completed every possible fitness test.”

Like any official, each of the Mariscals experienced their growing pains. Ironically, it was Felisha, who has earned the highest qualification in her family to date, who endured the most as she ascended through the ranks. And this had nothing to do with her ability.

“After I graduated from youth games, I got more assignments to officiate men’s adult amateur leagues,” she said. “This was perhaps the most challenging aspect of refereeing yet. Every game was a constant struggle to keep the authority as the official in control. Many of the players and coaches doubted my ability to handle the pace and apply the Laws of the Game. On many occasions, they would remind me of my gender and try to perpetuate their own expectations of who should be officiating their games.

“After a few of these games, I would drive home frustrated, sometimes questioning and second-guessing if I should keep refereeing. During this point in my career, I wish I would have known that by going through this turmoil, I was molded into being a better referee physically, mentally and emotionally. I would have not been ready to do women’s or men’s professional games had I not been forced to meet with passionate players of this sort ahead of time.”

All four have arrived, bringing integrity and extreme competence to their assignments. The Marsicals have occasionally pooled their talents in various incarnations and their communication skills are something to behold. One example was June 11, 2011, when Alejandro, Eduardo and Apolinar worked a match together between Mexico Sub 22 and Venezuela in Las Vegas. Alejandro served as the center referee while Apolinar and Eduardo were the assistant referees.

“This was not an easy game to referee especially because both teams are really difficult to referee,” Eduardo said. “This game was a test for us as a family working together. We know each other so well that I knew my brothers knew what to expect from me and vice versa. There was complete trust and, even though the communication devices did not work as planned, it did not matter since my brother knew us so well and he was able to read our body language.

“This was the first time my mother came to see us referee and she had the biggest surprise because, no matter which referee the fans were yelling at, it was one of her children.”

Seventeen days later, on June 28, the Mariscals upped the ante to four of a kind when the three brothers and one sister officiated an Open Cup match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Orange County County Blues at Cal State-Fullerton. It was the only time to date that all four have shared a field in the realm of professional officiating and the communication that went on between them was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

“I had worked with them at times for exhibition matches or in adult and youth league games,” Felisha said. “Calling a match with my brothers seems to come easier as we can communicate easier using gestures, eye contact, head nods and other forms of body language since we know each other so well.

“In all our games, we are each other’s biggest support, source of critique and training ally. We make a point to watch each other’s games and scrutinize the breakdown afterward. Not a family function goes by when, inevitably, a careful analysis of refereeing soccer begins to surface.”


eduardo-on-apolinar-updatedEduardo on Apolinar

“Something I can say about my brother Polo is that he is grateful of the help we received and appreciative of those who gave us that help. Many of the people who helped us never realized what an impact they made. By helping one of us, all four benefitted. Polo feels that giving back to those in need is the best way to pay it forward. I see that it doesn’t matter how busy he is, he will always find a way to give a hand to a friend or someone in need, such as, free math tutoring or mentoring upcoming referees. The way Polo works with upcoming referees resembles the way he works with his math students; he treats both of his professions as an opportunity to help others succeed.”

‘The Best They Can Be’

It was all about achievement to the highest degree for these young adults. And as they ascended the ranks of officiating, they each fulfilled Luz’s desire to make something genuinely meaningful of their lives. Felisha teaches advanced placement Spanish at Chula Vista High School. Eduardo teaches mathematics at Mira Costa Community College and Polomar Collage. Apolinar also is a mathematics instructor at those two colleges as well as Cal State University. Even Alejandro, who centers his professional life on soccer officiating more than any of his siblings, doubles as a Spanish translator.

It’s called getting the most out of their lives, just as Luz consistently encouraged them to do. And the wisdom she has passed along burns brightly within each of her children, leaving a lasting impression on anyone with whom they cross paths.

“These young people have had such an outstanding support system since they were small,” said Sandra Hunt, national assessor and instructor for U.S. Soccer. “And it shows. When you meet them, they look you right in the eye. I assign them for college soccer and have worked with them for years as they worked their way up the professional ranks and they look you in the eye and shake your hand very firmly when you meet them. They have what we call, ‘It.’”

Popejoy routinely worked matches at Chula Vista when the Mariscals were in high school. What he remembers were gifted athletes with minimal ego but ample sportsmanship with the drive to succeed.

“They were at the top academically and they always supported each other,” Popejoy said. “I’ve been at games where one of them is refereeing and, after the game, they sit down in the stands, they talk about the game and things they can improve. They’re a positive family. They have a mother who required that they do the things they’re supposed to do as kids in a positive way. They accepted her 100 percent and they all worked together.”

Scott saw those same qualities when he coached Felisha, Eduardo and Apolinar at Cal State San Marcos. Not only could they handle everything this demanding coach threw at them in practice, they routinely gave him back so much change for each of the figurative dollars he invested in each of them.

“They never missed a workout,” he said. “They were just a very dedicated, hard-working bunch. They were dedicated to the classroom, dedicated to their running, dedicated to the team and just very, very nice people. We would go up to Mammoth Mountain (in Sierra, Nev.) before the cross country season started and they were always willing to help in the kitchen with anything that was needed. All the others would be horsing around, but they would always want to help and go above and beyond what was expected of them.”

And as all four continue to solidify their identities as professional soccer officials, they have each other to thank, not to mention that smallish woman with the enormous heart who made it all possible.

“I have been blessed to have my siblings as referees and to be able to referee with them,” Eduardo said. “We have pushed each other to become better referees. We have always been united and I believe that is what made us so strong throughout our careers. I thank my mom for a great deal of our success since she always supported us,”

Added Felisha, “My brothers grew up together not only as siblings, but also as athletes, students, coaches and as professional referees. We are each other’s best friend and I know I can count on any of them.”

And through it all, a tired mother who used to balance three jobs looks on with enormous pride, satisfied that all her sacrifices were worth the struggle.

“I am very, very proud of them,” Luz said. “I feel so happy. I think they turned out to be the best they could be. When people think about them, they like them. People tell me what they think of my children and all I can say is that I’m proud of them.”

Peter Jackel is an award-winning writer from Racine, Wis.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 05/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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.)

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