Saturday, September 18, 2010

Extracurricular Activities #2: High School Sports Official

A few weeks ago I posted about how sometimes in addition to my regular job I also volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician at a rural ambulance service. In addition to this activity I also do another quite regularly. I am a High School Sports Official for the Iowa High School Athletic Association. I officiate 3 sports pretty much keeping me busy year round. I officiate Football, Wrestling, and Baseball. To become a registered official in Iowa you have to pass a written rules test and pay your dues. Most officials also belong to some kind of officials association. I belong to the Cedar Rapids Area Officials Association (Football), The Iowa City Area Officials Association ( Baseball, Football), and the Eastern Iowa Wrestling Officials Association (Wrestling). These associations mentor officials, provide training, and generally assign lower level contests Junior Varsity and below. Varsity contests are arranged between the official and the host school and an official needs to get a reputation and get his or her name out there for a few years to get these contests..

Wrestling was the sport I started officiating first and it is my favorite sport. Not really a surprise but it is also the only sport in High School that I participated in at the Varsity level. The state I grew up in and currently live in is one of the hotbeds of Collegiate style (Folkstyle) Wrestling. The University of Iowa Hawkeyes have won the last 3 NCAA Wrestling Championships and are second all time in number of national championships won. People in this state take their wrestling serious and it is as popular as any of the "revenue" sports like football or basketball. I started officiating wrestling shortly after I got out of the military. I was attending the state AAU youth championships as a spectator and I approached one of the officials and asked how I could become one. He gave me a phone number and the rest is history. Wrestling is unique among the sports I officiate. It is the only sport where the official is solo. An official has to live and die with his call, there is no one to confer with and no one to blame but himself if a call is blown. Officiating wrestling can be exciting but the pressure is incredible. Alone on the mat in a crowded gymnasium with the crowd almost on top of you, an official must be quick, athletic and knowledgeable if he is expecting to do a good job. The nuances of the sport and the changes in control can be quite intimidating at first. I have been officiating wrestling for 6 years from Varsity level to youth.

Football is the sport I started officiating second. One of the guys who mentored me as a wrestling official suggested I give it a try. I did and I liked it. I started out my first year doing Junior Varsity contests and below working all the positions on 3,4, and occasionally 5 man crews. My second year I was invited to join a Varsity crew as a Back Judge. I really enjoy the camaraderie of football officiating. It is sometimes like your officiating crew is the 3rd team on the field. We really work together as a unit to get the call right and to look sharp. Our goal is to administer the game fairly by the rules but to go unnoticed while doing it. It is a great compliment to be told you did a good job even by the losing coach. Football Friday nights in Iowa are electric as they are in all parts of the country. Marching bands are playing, the crowd is in to it, and the kids are hustling on the field. Officiating a well played football game can be very satisfying, on the other hand a bad game or one with a lot of poor sportsmanship can be very tedious. As a Back Judge on my varsity crew I don't throw a lot of flags but when I have to they are generally game changers. Pass interference calls mostly and the penalties for that infraction both ways are very punitive. 15 yards and a loss of down or an automatic first down depending on who committed the foul. You have to make sure those calls are correct. I have been officiating football for 5 years from Varsity level to youth.

Baseball is the johhny come lately. I started umpiring baseball to round out the year and because I really like watching baseball. Baseball has a culture all its own, it is the only sport where it is acceptable for the coach to come on the field of play and argue a call with the umpire.They tone it down quite a bit in High School but a certain amount of showmanship is still tolerated. I like behind the plate but working the bases is all right as well. Nothing beats being behind the plate on a nice summer evening calling balls and strikes. Baseball is the sport I really have to study both because the rules are very complicated and because I actually never really played baseball beyond little league. I believe I have made myself into a pretty decent umpire however and I pride myself that my strike zone is consistent. I have been officiating Baseball for 4 years from Varsity to youth.

I like officiating and like anything else I would like to be the best I can be. I want to possibly " white hat" at the Varsity level in football someday and I would love to officiate at the college level in all sports. Both of those things are going to require hard work and a little luck. being at the right place at the right time helps. At the end of the day I just enjoy being involved in the competition, and hope in some small way I am contributing to the positive development of the student-athlete.

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