No matter what sport or level we work, we are bonded. We are drawn together by a passion for officiating those outside the industry can’t understand. We make the calls and put up with the jeers because we love officiating. The reasons for our joy when we step on the field, court or ice are vast and every reason is forged in the fire of our individual experiences.
It Takes Dedication
By Brad Allen, NFL referee from Lumberton, N.C.
There is no other avocation that I can think of that requires the level of physical and mental preparation that officiating mandates, and you have to dedicate yourself in order to be successful.
You have to be in excellent physical condition in order to be in the correct position to rule on plays. Add to that the extreme climate conditions that officials encounter and you quickly understand the importance of physical conditioning for officials.
You also have to ensure that your mental preparation is exceptional in order to be effective. Knowing the rules and how to implement them fairly, evenly and within the guidelines of accepted philosophy is important. Managing a game and ensuring equity in your rulings between two talented, highly motivated teams is a great challenge. Knowing how to communicate with players, coaches and officials when the game is “on the line” requires great skill and finesse. The passion and emotion of the contestants can never sway the judgment of the crew. Being able to handle situations that arise separates the average official from the capable arbiter. The challenges of officiating are a great motivation and fun … you gotta love it!
The Field Feels Like Home
By Mandy Love, youth, amateur, high school, college, and former professional soccer official from Bowling Green, Ky.
I have known that I wanted to referee long before I owned my first whistle. My father and older brother both became soccer referees, and I had to watch them referee every Saturday in agony waiting for my turn. I had grown up playing the sport, but for some unknown reason, playing was just not satisfying enough. When I became old enough to referee, in my opinion, at the ripe age of nine I told my father my intentions and he explained that I was still too young to take an entry-level class. That was one of the few times I remember getting in trouble with my father for kicking his car door as hard as my little legs could out of anger. Another year passed and my father finally allowed me to become a certified referee. My uniforms were enormous, and I stepped on my flag but I felt as big as the world!
My feelings about my whistle are still the same. Every offseason lasts too long and a week off of the field makes me feel rusty. People often ask me how I maintain a smile throughout almost every game, however it is quite unintentional. I just cannot erase the pleasure from my face. Refereeing soccer is more than a hobby or a job; it is my passion and it is ingrained in me so deeply that it is a part of me. The confidence I feel on the field has spilled over into almost every aspect of my life, and it has propelled me to believe that any dream is within my grasp. And without any rhyme or reason, the place where I feel the most at home, pacified and comfortable is on that soccer field.
My Dad Was an Official
By Clete Blakeman, NFL referee from Omaha, Neb.
My love of officiating started when I was very young … five to six years old. I literally grew up watching my dad, Glen, work a seemingly endless number of football and basketball games. Each week, I’d tag along with dad and his crew to whatever game they had scheduled. I realized, even back then, how fun and rewarding each officiating experience was for the crew. As a child, I know that I enjoyed every minute of it. After college, I had the great privilege of joining his football crew and kick-starting my own football officiating career. We enjoyed working four football seasons together before his retirement.
It is a Huge Challenge
By Brad Watson, NHL referee from Denver
The thing I enjoy most about NHL officiating is the challenge each game presents. I have to be ready physically, mentally and emotionally. Officiating at the professional level requires commitment to conditioning. Today’s game is so fast and the players have such a high skill set that it’s very important to be in the best possible position to judge a play and make a call. Gaining the best sight line on the ice requires officials to be strong skaters, agile and physically fit.
Being mentally ready for the game is most important. When you are ready mentally you work with confidence. You know the rules, have studied the pregame intel and use your experience to go read and react to the actions. When a situation occurs that brings the temperature of the game up, you have to control your emotions and read the emotions of the players and coaches to restore calm. Having good presence, working with pride, acting professional and enjoying the challenge of the job is what I love most about officiating hockey. I always say, you can question my judgment but don’t question my effort.
It is My Release
By Ralph Davino, longtime high school baseball, football and basketball official from Watertown, Conn.
It puts me in the zone! I could be having the worst day possible and I still lose myself in my game that day. Usually I will leave the venue with a different outlook. It is my release.
It is the Best Seat in the House
By Kevin Yochum, Big League World Series softball umpire and baseball umpire from Fort Myers, Fla.
There is no greater place to be than on a softball or baseball field. Being part of the game is a big reason. It’s the best seat in the house. You can’t get any closer to the ballgame. It’s a wonderful place to be.
I hear (other officials) say, “I do it for the kids.” I’m not disagreeing with them when they say that and I enjoy being around the kids too, but there’s a hundred other things I could do if I was doing it for the kids. I could be involved with 4-H. I could be involved with Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America.
I do it because I love the ballgame. … The Big League College World Series (last August in Kalamazoo, Mich.) was probably the most fun I’ve had on a ball field. I came off the field and I was so pumped up.
It Gave Me Brothers
By Steve Thorne, 19-year high school football official from Escondido, Calif.
Before I started officiating I had a sister who lived in another county. Now I have hundreds of brothers around the country.
You Meet All Types
By Rick Eberhardt, a 4-decade multi-sport official from Buffalo, N.Y.
You meet just about every type of person there is that exists and you have to learn to deal with all of them in a manner that shows that you deserve to be called an “official.” You meet cheaters, schemers, geniuses and idiots. You meet people persons, individual persons, team players and egomaniacs. You meet talented, mediocre and middle-of-the-road people. Some are destined for greatness, some for failure. No matter who you meet, you have to deal with them as people who deserve the best from you. No matter what age, talent, salary, race or sex, you must give your all. You are expected to be perfect and improve after that.
It’s Like Playing
By Lee Dyer, NFL back judge from Trenton, Ga.
I love the smell of the grass when you first walk out on the field when you get to the stadium. Your heart begins to race, the adrenaline begins to run rampant throughout your body, the excitement takes over as you look around the stadium; you take a couple of deep breaths and then everything becomes so clear. Officiating is similar to playing the game — full of emotion, both highs and lows. I love the challenge of being in complete control of your emotions, maintaining the calmness and the challenge to make a split-second decision in front of 60,000-100,000 screaming fans and knowing you have six crewmates that have your back in the heat of the battle.
It is a Tradition
By Joanne Aldrich, NCAA D-I women’s basketball official from Tewksbury, Mass.
My father was a basketball official and one of the founding members of the local IAABO board in Lowell, Mass. The board presents an award in his name each year to the area high school that exemplifies sportsmanship.
My dad always said, “You do not always win, but you can always be a good sport” and, “You should conduct yourself on the court, the way you would conduct yourself in life.” In addition, I have two brothers and a sister who were also officials … we were known as the “Aldrich Hoop Family.”
So when I went off to college I had to work and was asked what I might enjoy doing, I said, “Sports.” I was hired on the intramural staff and was paid $3 an hour to officiate co-ed flag football, women’s basketball and co-ed softball. It was fun and stress-free officiating, and I was able to help pay for college. That was the start of my passion for officiating basketball. For the following few years, I officiated some while pursuing my master’s in nursing and then my doctorate. After completing my doctorate, I returned to officiating. Presently I officiate in nine D-I conferences. I am also in my first year as the coordinator of officials for the NE-10 Conference, the largest Division II conference in the country.
I look for officials I assign to have the same respect and values for the game as I do. I am blessed that I have been able to enjoy two passions and carry on the “Aldrich Hoop Family” tradition.
It Makes Me Feel Alive
By Brian Alexander, high school basketball official from Aleknagik, Alaska
It is equivalent to flying an airplane, skydiving, skiing a black diamond, anything that heightens all your senses. If you’ve ever experienced a buzzer-beater, that’s what I’m talking about.
It Has Made Me a Better Person
By Robert Nelson, basketball and football official from Gainesville, Fla.
I love officiating for the same reason I love my wife. It and she have made me a better person. I appreciate that officiating has contributed lots of exercise and has helped to keep me in good health. It has helped me to handle stressful situations and taught me how to remain calm in the midst of the storms of life. It has put me in the middle of so many exciting situations where my skills and knowledge have been tested and given me and my crewmates the afterglow of satisfaction when you know you nailed it in a championship atmosphere.
I Get to Be a Part of a Great Game
By Bert Smith, NCAA D-I men’s basketball official from Florence, Ky.
I love being part of the game. The arrival at the arena, the pregame, being with various partners, the competition, the players, coaches, ambience, the focus and concentration needed on each possession. It allows me the privilege to do something I love, being part of the greatest game, men’s college basketball. I also love the fact that no game is ever the same and allows us the ability to make constant improvement.
It Doesn’t Discriminate
By Spencer Hunley, high school football official from Kansas City, Mo.
As a person with a disability, I’m pleased to be a part of a profession that doesn’t discriminate against what I can’t do and emphasizes what I can. The minute my stripes are on, I’m a part of a crew — not an official with a disability.
We Aren’t Allowed to Fail
By Ruben Fowler, NFL umpire from Del Valle, Texas
I love that we are the only participants who are not allowed to fail. What I mean is that we are the upholders of the integrity of the game. There is no swaying what we are attempting to do — to make sure the game is played as fairly as possible. We make mistakes but we make them with the honest attempt to be right 100 percent of the time; I like being held to that high standard.
I Can Be a Role Model
By Glenn Bushouse, soccer and volleyball official from Richland, Mich.
It offers a chance to lead by example. Even after coaches/fans express their disappointment in my calls, I still have the eyes and hearts of the players on the field looking to me for leadership and how to show good character and convictions.
It is the Ultimate Escape
By Glen Thompson, high school official from Tremont, Ill., who has worked football, baseball, softball and cycling.
Officiating for me has always been the ultimate escape. When I am out on the field working a game I am mentally and physically completely focused on doing the job right. The problems of the world do not exist when I am working a game. This was evident five years ago when my mother died in September and my father died in October during the football season. I didn’t miss a game that season, because working the games was my therapy.
It Provides Excitement
By Brittany Henry, high school basketball official from Antioch, Calif.
I love officiating because of the rush of excitement I get every time a player rises over another for a nothing-but-net three-pointer or from two kids diving after a loose ball like it’s a $1 million bill. The passion I felt when I played is still there for me when I officiate and I can feel that passion on the court. Being able to participate and watch these young men and women playing the game because they have that desire to play is a joy to me that you cannot experience through a TV or on the sidelines.
It is the Toughest Thing I’ve Ever Done
By Ed Malloy, NBA referee from Aston, Pa.
I love officiating because of the challenge. It is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Unfortunately we miss plays every night, but the challenge of trying to be perfect and get every play right is why I love it so much. There is no better feeling then walking back into the locker room with your partners and knowing that we worked together as a team and that we gave everything we had for those 48 minutes.
I Love Officiating Because It Gives Me Goose Bumps
By Jeff Adler, Foster City Calif., who officiates high school football, youth soccer and Little League Baseball
Working a Friday night high school football game gives me goose bumps. As soon as I arrive and begin preparing for the game, my day, my life, enters a new and exciting realm. When I enter the field, there’s more bounce in my step, my senses are heightened and my competitive juices start flowing. I can’t find that feeling anywhere else.
I Have a Passion for the Sport
By Bill Dittmar, amateur, collegiate and MLS referee from Newport News, Va.
At the core of the reasons why I love to referee is a passion for the sport of soccer. In 1973, my older brother Mike introduced the game to our family by joining the high school team as a freshman. I was seven years old and wanted to learn everything he learned each day when he got home from practice. I joined a rec team and Mike spent hours showing me how to play. Over the next seven years, Mike rose to become a star for both his high school and college teams, my dad became a coach and my love for the game was cemented. By age 11, I was organizing all the neighborhood kids in pick up games and by age 14, I got certified to referee and started coaching. Soccer was now firmly in my blood and forever would help mold and shape me.
Over the years I’ve been blessed with so many highlights but have found a simple phrase that sums it all up: “Special Soccer Moments,” derived from the poem “June Goal,” written by my Dad in 1976. It goes:
You scored, Billy ––
a thrust, a dribble, a power shot
that carried high into the net.
Their goalie tried leaping to his left
but never had a chance.
As you looked toward my approval
you knew we kicked it in together.
Soccer has enriched my life ever since that fateful day in 1973 when my brother came home and said he made the high school soccer team. I continue to coach high school soccer. I still play in a men’s league, have refereed more than 700 NCAA games and am in my 17th season as an MLS official. The challenges are different for each level of refereeing and the emotional payoffs vary, but the reason for being in the game is the same: Passion for soccer runs through my veins.
You Never Know What is Going to Happen
By Jay Sharrers, NHL linesman from Scottsdale, Ariz.
Even though at this point in my career I have the experience and acceptance, there is still that constant challenge from one game to the next because you never know what is going to happen every time you step on the ice. It pushes you to be on top of your game. For someone like me who has been in the game for a long time, there is a certain level of expectation on the part of players, coaches and my supervisors. That is definitely what drives me.
Rules knowledge is a component of it. Knowing the rulebook and being able to execute decisions in a split-second. My colleagues and I have strong personalities with how we’re wired so being able to do a job that you know you’re in a select company of people is very rewarding. It’s not some routine you’re doing day in and day out. You never know what’s going to happen. Having to make those decisions in a split second is a challenge I enjoy.
It Requires Total Focus
By Harold Buck, New Hope, Minn., a longtime men’s lacrosse official who has also worked lifeguard tournaments and fencing.
I love officiating because it has a Zen aspect to it: for those two hours, you are completely focused on the task at hand. There’s no room in your head for thinking about cutting the grass, what you need from the store or how you have to finish your taxes. It’s energizing and refreshing to have that kind of focus on something. Add to that the fact that we actually get paid to exercise, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a spring afternoon than on a lacrosse field!
It Lets Me Work With High-Class People
By Lou Vizza, high school football and college basketball official from Warren, Pa.
Why I love officiating can be simply put as it has given me the opportunity to work with and be associated with some of the finest individuals that walk the face of this earth. Not one of these men or women is without the utmost class and integrity, and I hope by associating with them some of their class and integrity has rubbed off on me and made me a better person. *
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