High school football through a longtime D.C.-area official’s eyes

The chief photographer for the Department of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command by day, Barry Lake has spent Friday nights and weekends officiating high school football games in the D.C. area for 18 years. He’s officiated for some of the region’s most prominent high school football associations in the region: the Eastern Board of Officials in DC (EBO), Northern Virginia (NVFOA), and currently Washington District (WDFOA), which assigns him games in Calvert, Charles, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s Counties in Maryland, as well as private schools in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.

Lake’s seen future stars emerge and evolve, fields change, and D.C.-area high school football grow into some of the nation’s best. He took a few minutes to answer some questions about the game to which he’s dedicated almost two decades of his life.

How has the game changed in your 18 years on the job?

“The one thing that is markedly different now from when I began is the new turf field. The new turf fields are so much better than the ones of the past, and there are many more turf fields now than ever before. We love them. They are so much better on your feet and back. The players love them, too. Again, more and more school have turf fields, but I must say there is nothing like a well-kept grass field.

Still, I think turf fields are great. Not only for us [as officials] but they also help prevent injuries. They are easier to maintain and save money that would be used for seeding watering, grass cutting and general maintenance.”

What future stars did you officiate during their high school years? Could you see the star potential then?

“Two I’m thinking of now who played for Dunbar High School in D.C. are Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers and Joshua Cribbs who played for the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. You know there are so many players that have come from this area I could name a lot more, but most people would not know them. Not all have gone to the NFL, but so many have had outstanding college careers. I may see a player during his freshman season and then not again for a couple of years when he is a senior, but you can always tell if he is going to be that special player — the one who will play in college and maybe the pros. There is just something about them that stands out.

Do any moments or games stick out from all those years?

“There are so many, that’s a tough question. Listening to an 11th grader sing the national with so much passion that she broke down and cried at the end of the song is on moment I don’t think I will ever forget.

I remember a game where one of the teams playing had not won a game in three years. With 30 second left in the game and losing 10-6 they have a breakaway run and the runner — five yards from the goal line with a sure chance to score and win the game — fumbles the ball and it goes through the end zone and out and is a touchback and of course they lost. I just felt so bad for him.

Officiating isn’t an easy job. Why give up 18 years of off-days to do it?

“Why would someone who starts their day at 5 a.m. work an 8-hour job and then officiate a football game on a 90-degree day, a rainy day or on a freezing cold and snowy day and not get home till 10 or 11 at night? Take weekly rules tests, go to regular meetings, and only get paid a minimal game fee? There is only one answer: for the love of the game. That’s why I do it and that’s what any official you ask will tell you. We truly love what we do and that’s it. What do I get out of it? I have the pleasure of being on the field with young student athletes who are giving their all for a common goal. I also try and set an example of fairness and responsibility to kids in their formative years.”

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Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.

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