In This Game, Referees Are Front and Center

Above: Referees Willie LeMay, left, and Dennis Bodson make the call. At left: Bodson, LeMay and Mike Rauer discuss a penalty on a punt.
Above: Referees Willie LeMay, left, and Dennis Bodson make the call. At left: Bodson, LeMay and Mike Rauer discuss a penalty on a punt. (Photos By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2006

The crazed fans. The ranting coaches. The occasional player upset with a call (or lack of one). Game officials at area high school games are trained to tune them out. It's part of the job, officials say repeatedly.

But getting cursed at by the water girl during a timeout? That was a new low.

"I was stunned at first," said veteran official Brad Hewick, who was working a Prince George's County football game earlier this season when the girl in question had some choice words for him as she brought water to players on the field. He sent the girl off the field and told her team's coach not to let her on again. "That was worse than any coach," Hewick said.

Every year, in just about every high school sport, officials associations clamor for new members. Their job doesn't pay particularly well -- especially when you throw in driving time and the cost of commuting -- and it is not particularly glamorous. It requires a significant time commitment -- often on weekday afternoons for the freshman and junior varsity games, and on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons for varsity games -- and the flexibility to leave work early when necessary.

It can be physically rigorous, and keeping up with the play has become more challenging as players continue to get bigger, stronger and faster. And, with the advent of instant replay in the NFL and college football and more video cameras in the stands at high school events, the expectation for perfection is growing.

"For some reason or other, coaches in football don't think these officials can make mistakes," said Al Ferraro, commissioner of the Washington District Football Officials Association. "You see them yelling and screaming like crazy, like in the colleges and pros: 'Everybody's horrible.' They're not horrible. They're doing the best they can."

Officiating might be the most thankless job in sports. Although many veteran officials said they believe their (mis)treatment has not changed over the years, many administrators think otherwise. Those in charge of the officials continually say they are short-handed.

"And the schools keep multiplying, they seem to be rabbits," Ferraro said. "We have a bad year [recruiting new members] next year, I'm going to get in deep doo-doo."

Assistant Commissioner Jack Kravitz said, "Every commissioner in every sport is going to give you the same story: You just can't get people."

He said that the first two years he worked as an official, he never worked a varsity game. After going through preseason training, he had to work his way up by doing freshman and junior varsity games. Today's schedulers don't have that luxury, he said.

"At some time during the season, unless they're god-awful and we have no choice, most [rookie officials] will work a varsity game or two," he said.

Not that those playing, coaching or watching will be any more tolerant.

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