First Person Singular: Football Referee Don Stitt

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My first year out of college, I started coaching 14- and 15-year-olds in Vienna. Then, about 17 years ago, I started officiating. Lucky for me, my wife is a die-hard football fan, too. She never missed a game when I was coaching, but she won't come to any of these games because she doesn't want to hear anyone yelling at me.

We blow calls out there. Sure we do. We're human. There are 22 players, three officials and no instant replays. You're going to miss something, so you've got to just move on. The most difficult part about doing youth football is that it's just like anywhere else in life: You've got 95 percent of the people who are on board; they know what youth football is for. And then about 5 percent of the coaches and parents think that every game their son or their team is playing in is the Super Bowl. The kids for the most part are just delightful, but keeping those kind of people under control wears on you.

I've only had to be escorted off the field with protection twice. The supervisors had heard some parents shouting threats, the "we'll see you in the parking lot" kind of thing, and they wanted to be safe rather than sorry. The best compliment you get is you walk off the field and no one knows who you are. That means you did the game fairly on both sides and no one was coming after the guy they blame for their loss.

The very first game I officiated still haunts me. I was tense. And that's the worst thing to be -- you get tense and you forget what you know about football. There was a backward pass, and I called it incomplete. It was a fumble, not an incomplete pass. One of the kids on defense picked it up and ran it down for a touchdown. It should have counted, but once I blew that whistle, the ball was dead. It ended up the team that made that touchdown lost by a touchdown. I went right over to the coach after the game, and I said to him: "Hey, this was my first game, and I blew the call." He coached for about another 10 years, and we became best buds.

Doing this has helped me a lot in my people skills. I have three daughters; they get into squabbles. It's good to know how to be fair and not pick sides. With my wife, well, we've been married 30 years, so I've found it just easier to say "You're right" and move on.

Interview by Amanda Long

© 2009 The Washington Post Company