Photo Credit: Bill Nichols

It’s Worth the Wait

“I’ve officiated football and volleyball since 1978 and worked the volleyball state finals in 1994, even though my self-evaluation had me as a better football official. Then after working football for 32 years, I finally made it to the football state finals in 2010. … I can truly say that the experience was worth the wait and a memory I will cherish for a long time.

“You get a notification about two to three weeks in advance of the game, so the anticipation is high as is the preparation. It is something that you prepare for every year. And while we had done local televised games, even live broadcasts, that game seemed to be bigger than all the others. For me personally, it was a great thrill and memory maker.”

Ted Lepucki, 63, Arlington Heights, Ill., has officiated high school volleyball and football since 1978. He worked the boys’ state volleyball finals in 1994, ’95, ’96 and the football 7A state championship in 2010, and 5A championship in 2014.

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

“At my age, people assume that I don’t know a whole lot about being a football official. However, they are surprised to find out that I have been an official in some fit, form or function for 10 years. Yes, that means that I have officiated football while playing in high school (worked youth games on weekends). I want to thank my dad, as he was a big part in helping me along the way. As a result, I worked my first varsity game under the Friday night lights when I was 18 years old, as a freshman in college.”

Joseph Maccario, 24,Charleston, S.C., has been officiating football for 10 years.

Go With What You Know

“I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it happened early in my professional career. I had just blown the whistle in the middle of a tough MLS game. The crowd was screaming, the players were yelling — all because a nasty, nasty tackle had just happened.

“I recall thinking about what all my ‘bosses’ wanted and I was frozen. ‘Can I manage this?’ or ‘Should I send the player off?’ or ‘Should I …’ At the end of the game, I reviewed the video and it was clear. It was a red card that needed to be handled with confidence and clarity — not indecision and delay. It was at that moment that I realized that I needed to not worry about what others wanted, but go with what I knew and be decisive about it.”

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David Gantar, 39, Edmonton, Alberta, has been an MLS referee since 2010.

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You Can’t Learn Everything From a Book

“As a physician I approached officiating as I had approached college and medical school. I gathered every available book written on the subject before even stepping into my ill-fitting knickers. I went to camp before I had stepped onto a field as an official. I memorized the rulebook. And then, finally, I got my first assignment working a peewee game with an experienced white hat.

“By the second snap I realized I knew nothing about being a flank in an actual football game. I had never been more unsure of myself in my life and it showed to the coaches, the players and the other officials. All the book knowledge meant very little once the first whistle blew. I soon wised up and discovered how much more important mechanics were to a new official than the rulebook. “Nine years later, thanks to excellent mentors and game experience, I consider myself competent but not great and learn something new every time I take the field. Books are great and my memory is helpful but nothing compares to game experience.”

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Michael Illingworth, 52, Fresno, Calif., has been officiating football for 10 years, nine at varsity level.

It’s Not Just a Game

“I do all levels of umpiring from NCAA Division I to youth rec baseball. It’s very hard as a college official to go to a PONY or AAU field and have the same enthusiasm for sometimes pretty badly played games. Doing a 12-year-old AAU game one day, which was about 22-1 in the last of the fifth, I couldn’t wait to get out of there for a 10-run mercy rule game.

“A kid comes up for the last out. He is clearly a bench player, maybe never even batted that year. My zone was huge and I rung him up on a curve about a foot outside. There was uproar from the parents and bench. I was amazed and wanted to say, ‘It’s 22-1. Are you guys kidding me?’ Turns out I was told later he was a special needs kid maybe not fully disabled but mildly autistic, and that was his only at bat for the year. I learned then that maybe every at bat does count to somebody, maybe every game does count, if not so much to us sometimes.”

Fran Nowadly, 50, Moyock, N.C., has been umpiring baseball since 1996. He began umpiring at the youth level and is currently working high school and college games, including NCAA Division I games.

Be Open to Growth

“My officiating journey has helped me challenge myself to be open to personal growth through individual experience. Instead of closing myself off, I listen to others, challenge myself to try new things and seek out ideas so that I might improve my way of doing things. I listen and actually try things because you never really know the other side of a decision until you actually make it and live with it. Only then do you have the personal knowledge and perspective to know that something won’t work for me.

“I have two lists. One list is the things that I’m open to trying. That list is blank because I don’t want to limit myself to my own imagination. I don’t know what I don’t know and could leave something out. The other list is things that I’ve actually experienced and know I don’t ever want to do again. And believe me it continues to be very interesting as I continue on this officiating journey.

“Why have a list? In both family life and officiating, I am part of a team and my commitment to my team and for my personal growth and experience makes me the best that I can be for my team.”

Bennie Adams, 47, New Orleans, has been an  NBA referee for 19 seasons.

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Pay It Forward

“I reached my goals of first being a high school varsity and later a collegiate official through the help of others who mentored me along the way. Once I reached the collegiate level, one of my mentors told me not to get a big head and it was now my turn to give back and mentor others. I took that to heart and tried to give back everywhere I’ve been while officiating in three different states. As the current president of my state association, one of my goals was to impress upon others the need to give back to our avocation of officiating as others have given to us. We won’t live or run forever, so we need to be developing the next generation of officials to take our place.”

John Patterson, 50, San Angelo, Texas, has officiated basketball for 19 years. He has worked high school through Division I women’s basketball games.

Ignorance is Bliss

“Twenty years ago, when my son was a young hockey player at the Mite level (eight and under), I was one of ‘those’ parents who thought they knew the game of hockey. Why not? I had been a casual fan since childhood and a true fanatic since high school. Hence, I knew it all. I was one of the loud, obnoxious parents in the stands who was constantly yelling at the referees. How I didn’t get thrown out is beyond me. Today I would never tolerate a parent in the stands acting that way! After one frustrating weekend tournament, where the officiating was absolutely ‘unacceptable,’ I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I was going to become a referee myself. … Needless to say, my first time on the ice in stripes was the most humbling, eye-opening experience of my life. Although it was a beginners’ house league contest, I was completely dumbfounded to find myself in the middle of the action, unable to avoid the buzzing little skaters, to say nothing of the confusion I felt having to call lines and watch out for penalties. Goals, those were the last things on my mind. I quickly learned what it was like to walk in that other guy’s shoes and I was immediately cured.

“That epiphany was sobering enough that I decided to take this avocation very seriously and set about to become an exemplary hockey referee. Five years later, I was officiating college games. To this day, one of the most gratifying elements of reffing is when I mentor a new official for the first time and ease their transition into this world.”

Nico Louras, 56, Rutland, Vt., has been an ice hockey official since 1995. He works youth to adult games.

Never Give Up

“You can do anything you want with hard work, practice, some luck and timing. I was born without a hip. I was in a half body cast for close to three years. My hip did grow in, but I always had orthopedic issues. The doctors told my parents to treat me normally and to allow me to do any activity I wanted. Having played softball (among other sports) when I was 16, our town league asked if anyone would like to umpire the younger games. I raised my hand.

“That was 44 years ago. I went to the umpiring clinic and officiated town ball. When I went to Glassboro State College, I obtained my high school certification and umpired to work my way through college. I listened to mentors, went to clinics and practiced. By luck, someone saw me work and asked me to try out for college ball. Not a year later I was asked to go to a national school. I left my daughter with my husband and two grandmothers and flew to the 10-day school. My schedule got bigger and I had my first NCAA D-III tournament in 1986.

“After continuing my attendance at ASA clinics, doing ASA nationals and three more NCAA nationals, I was scheduled to go to my next national that would have qualified me for ISF. Unfortunately, the day I was supposed to leave was the day my husband took me to my first physical therapy session after leg reconstruction. While my hip has never bothered me, I always walked funny and my knees took the brunt of my off gait.

“Although my college career would end, another door opened up. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) interpreter was moving and I was asked to fill that position. Twenty-five years later and countless numbers of officials trained, and I still hold that position. I also have been on the NFHS Softball Rules Committee. All because I never got the memo that I couldn’t obtain my goals. Never ever give up.”

Allison Munch, 60, Williamstown, N.J., is an NJSIAA softball interpreter/assigner and a West Chapter #5 softball cadet trainer/interpreter (pictured above, left, with daughter).

Family That Officiates Together Stays Together

“I have been fortunate to be able to officiate different sports at the high school level with numerous family members. I have worked volleyball and softball with my wife, Kelly; football, basketball, baseball and volleyball with my son, Cory; basketball, softball, volleyball and baseball with my daughter, Erika; volleyball with daughters Gretchen and Katie; and football, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball with my brother, Marvin. My brother, Clark, is a high school soccer official, but I don’t officiate that, so we have never worked a game together. We have had situations where an entire volleyball match is all family and also varsity basketball games where all three officials are family. It gives a different closeness to family gatherings.”

Mike Hinga, 64, Portage, Mich., has officiated 36 years. He works high school football, basketball, softball, baseball and volleyball.

Not Everything is Black and White

“The book — on or off the field — is supposed to be black and white. But in life or in playing the game, it’s not that easy or cut and dried. There’s so much that has to go into making decisions. You have to get as much information as possible.

“Two or three people could be looking from the same vantage point at the same play or the same work issue and have a different outcome. You have to get together with your crew (on or off the field) to come up with the best decision. It all comes down to communication.”

Paul Guillie, 54, Metairie, La., is an NCAA Division I umpire who has worked four College World Series.

Older Means Wiser

“I began officiating at the age of 55. When I started, I realized that I carried all of my experiences as an athlete (youth through college), my 10-plus years of coaching my kids’ teams, a wealth of leadership and organizational experience from my professional work and a desire to be a good official. Hardly a game goes by where I don’t have the opportunity to call upon those experiences. Rules knowledge and proper mechanics are essential, but they don’t give tools of intuition, anticipation, compassion, humor, control, patience, forgiveness and presence that allow you to properly facilitate the game. I never realized I spent my first 55 years preparing to be an official.”

Patrick Greiten, 56, Simsbury, Conn., is in his second year as a football official, and he has officiated one year of lacrosse and soccer, working mostly at the youth and high school levels.

Stay Cool, Calm and Collected

“I’m 26 years old with five years of officiating experience and working as line judge in a D-III football game on Bill LeMonnier’s crew. The game is close and chippy with personal fouls and scuffles. I have the visitor’s sideline and the coaches are losing their tempers. They also had a parent on the sideline, a giant of a man (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) in bib overalls, flannel shirt and work boots who is also up and down the sidelines trying to intimidate me. Unfortunately, being young and volatile, I took the bait and began to snap back at the coach and harshly at the fan. The fan made his way closer and my street sense was telling me to get ready to rumble with this guy. My mind was not on this football game and Bill LeMonnier knew it.

“He called me into the center of the field and gave me a stern lecture about getting my head back into this game: ‘Can you get your head out of your rear and handle this? Or do I have to?’ Bill asked. He calmed me down as I went back to communicate with the coach. It seemed the coach actually realized his behavior wasn’t representative of a head coach and he was cooperative. After the series ended, Bill called me to the middle of the field and discussed the situation in a very mentoring way. Then he grabbed my shirt as I was going back to the sideline and said, ‘You have a bright future, don’t lose your cool and blow it. You and I have much bigger games to work together in the future.’

“Then, 13 years later, Bill (referee) and I (umpire) are working the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona — Nebraska vs. Tennessee. When we go to commercial between the third and fourth quarter, I shook Bill’s hand and said, ‘Thank you for all your help over the years, especially that day when you straightened me out and said we have bigger places to work. … I think this is a little bit bigger stage.’”

Tony Michalek, 53, Evergreen Park, Ill., has been an umpire in the NFL since 2002.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

“About 15 years ago I was the plate umpire in a big game between two pretty good Australian clubs. Well, the Glenelg pitcher seemed to take exception with my strike zone. About the sixth inning he was really getting hot. So he huffed and puffed and marched around that mound; he was working himself into a frenzy. I just waited for the inevitable blow up, which everybody knew was coming and would result in his getting a cool shower a bit earlier than planned.

“So as he is walking around he grabs the rosin bag and throws it down. Then he grabs it again and throws it down. In my head, I am counting: ‘Strike one, strike two …’ He grabs the rosin bag a third time and this time throws it up very high. And summarily marches toward me shouting expletives. Suddenly, the rosin bag returns to Earth. It lands squarely on his head and gives off a big puff of smoke! Everybody, including me, is laughing. Before I can regain my composure the pitcher, now completely embarrassed, storms off. It’s the only ejection in which I never really ejected him.”

Preston Davis, 53, Dothan, Ala., is a longtime baseball and softball umpire, and has officiated football since 2010.

It’s Great to Be‘One of the Guys’

“I have learned how to survive and flourish in a male-dominant environment. I am a football official and am well received in the community of officials. Recently at a board meeting, the president told me I was just one of the guys. To me that was a great honor and he meant it!”

Laurie Jordan, 57, Warrenville, Ill., has officiated football for 12 years.

Patience is a Virtue

“Through officiating, I’ve learned patience and that has taught me to understand why. When you’re on the floor refereeing, if you don’t think about everything that’s going on, you can’t understand why the other guy might be mad with you, like a coach or a player.

“Officiating has taught me to be understanding and not thinking that I’m always right all the time. But even when I am right, I can still understand their point of view. With patience I am able to understand and navigate through a situation, and able to defuse a volatile situation.”

Eric Lewis, 43, Daytona Beach, Fla., recently finished his 10th season as an NBA official.

Team is Better Than Individual

“Repeatedly, officials have demonstrated their willingness to serve as a true ‘team.’ I remember in one game not being certain there were 12 players on defense. And then the ball was snapped. A very solid member of the crew — but working his first conference game — came in after the play and confirmed there were 12. Although it was my call, he saved the day. The lesson I learned is that groups that have the same motivation make better decisions than individuals.”

Doug Rhoads, 69, Greensboro, N.C., is a former official and law enforcement officer. He currently serves as the coordinator of football officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

You Can’t Go Home Again

“I teach school in the town where I was raised. Many I work with know that I also officiate. I am constantly asked if I will be working ‘the game’ this Friday. My answer, always, is ‘No.’ This is one arena where you can never ‘Go home.’ Everyone wants to see you work; they just don’t understand the downside should something controversial happen. I love my job, love my town and I love officiating; it’s a bad idea to mix the three.”

Scotty Allen, 48, Gladewater, Texas, has officiated high school football for 22 years and NCAA Division II football for 10 years. He has also officiated high school soccer for six years.

The Best Things in Life Are Free

“On a cruise celebrating the graduation of my oldest from college and my twins from high school, we had the privilege of having a waiter from Romania. The cruise crew was nearly half Romanian and half Turkish. Many had played soccer internationally, and every week they would play an International Friendly complete with national team jerseys, with a Mexican referee, on a field in Cancun. They invited my son to play.

“On arriving at the field, no referee showed. I had the privilege of refereeing a full game, with some of the best talent I had ever seen, in my sandals, and my son was welcomed with open arms. It was the only game at that level I will ever do, received not a dime and had the experience of a lifetime.

“Several months later my son received a package in the mail: a full international jersey from Romania and a team photo taken after the game. I learned things in that game I have never forgotten; it gave me a totally new appreciation for what talented players want in a referee, and my son (now 25) and I have a memory that we relive regularly.”

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