This was an article we had in the Winter Edition of the magazine, a publication in which we have partnered with the Valley Voice on. Since it's NSAA Winter Officials Appreciation Week, it felt fitting to post this article on the website.
It's one of those jobs that never gets enough credit. Officiating. I think it's awesome that the NSAA does an Officials Appreciation Week. It's needed. When a team loses, sometimes the official is the scapegoat. And even when a team wins, the officials are criticized. It can be a thankless job. And I'm not trying to lump all fans into these categories. A ton of folks are grateful for officials. But we are at a crossroads and have been for a while. Officials are harder to find.
We had four officials willing to answer some questions about what it takes to wear the stripes, the challenges, and of course the good stuff that comes along with it. Between Terry Polston, Brent Samuelson, Kris Freeland, and Chris Mroczek there is over 60 years combined of officiating experience. So needless to say, we have a panel that has seen a few things and reffed a few games.
What's obvious is you have to love officiating. And each of these guys does. "What I love about officiating football, basketball, and starting track meets are the opportunities to get together with guys that enjoy the same passion that you have. Yes, there are some long nights, but the conversations that you have with fellow officials after games and being able to share ideas is what makes this hobby very interesting and special," said Mrozcek.
"I really enjoy interacting with the kids, coaches, and AD’s. I have met so many great people through officiating. I want to make sure the kids have the same opportunity I had to play sports and develop into better people," added Samuelson.
And with anything, there are challenges to officiating. "Some challenges that have come about in the last few years are the number of officials that are in our area to help cover games and tied to that is the overall issue of sportsmanship from coaches and fans that have led others a different direction. I think the perception of some people is that officials already know the outcome of a game prior to tipoff or kickoff. Unfortunately, that is very untrue and when things don't go a certain way, then fans and coaches tend to blame the guys in stripes. I will be the first to admit that I will never be 100% correct on all calls, but I know that I will call things the way I see it and trust my partners to do the same every night," said Mrozcek."
Samuelson echos a Mrozcek. And it makes it hard to keep younger or novice officials. "Verbal abuse from parents/fans has steadily gotten worse over the years. Hence, it is hard to keep young officials in the fold as they don’t want to deal with being yelled at constantly. This has contributed to a shortage of officials which makes it really difficult when scheduling games," added Samuelson.
And Polston highlights that too. "We are trained and hired to enforce the rules. People don't take the time to know and understand the rules as they apply to high school. They just want to yell at someone when little Johnny gets a flag or a foul called on him."
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All of these guys know they aren't perfect. But in all of their answers, it's clear they are doing the best they can. And isn't that enough at the end of the day?
For Kris Freeland. He has a fascinating perspective. He coaches boy's basketball at Dundy County Stratton and officiates a variety of sports. So for him, he sees both sides of the equation. "Contrary to popular belief, I have a good relationship with the officials, but my respect level has gone up for those who officiate, said Freeland. "It is hard to go out there and basically get yelled at for almost every call you make. You definitely need to have thick skin. The relationships you develop with your crew and the area kids outweigh the negatives of officiating!"
One of the things that isn't seen is the bond and relationship these officiating crews develop. "After spending so much time together officiating games all over the state, the crew becomes like a second family. On the drives to games, after we get done with our pre-game update we have time for some great discussions where we learn all about each other’s lives and family," said Samuelson.
With there being a need for more officials, each of these guys encourages someone that is interested to get involved. And also, seek advice from those who have done it for a long time. "I would recommend they talk with a veteran official or AD and see if they can start by working a lower-level game (JH or JV) to see if they like it. Assuming they enjoy it, I would tell them to do as many games as possible at the lower level to hone their skills," said Samuelson.
"Finding someone who has been in officiating for a while to mentor you and help get you going is the best way. Any crew out there would be more than willing to help you get started," said Polston.