I officiate high school football. I’ve been doing it for 20 years. Every Friday night in the fall I can be found running around on a football field somewhere in Northeast Iowa. Last Friday I was in Cedar Rapids officiating the Xavier-Wahlert Catholic varsity game. At halftime, we left the field and walked through a large crowd of people to get to our locker room.
And nothing happened.
What I mean is that no one yelled at us, no one gave us intimidating looks, no one threatened us in any way. We were escorted to the school by a school official. But he wouldn’t have had to do that for us. The crowd was no problem.
That’s the way it should be for officials, fans and school personnel. I try never to take that uneventful walk for granted. All one has to do is check the internet or television news to see that isn’t the way it goes in other states.
So far this season, the evening news has shown video of two separate incidents from around the nation of high school football officials being assaulted on the field by high school players. An incident in Texas is said to have been ordered by an assistant coach. Other incidents have shown officials being threatened by fans.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I think incidents like the ones I’ve described don’t happen in Iowa or at least are very, very isolated.
Our walk to our dressing room Friday night wasn’t an isolated incident for us. It happens every Friday night, regardless of where we work. I think it speaks to the job school administration does to make sure good sportsmanship is a priority at their sporting events.
Good sportsmanship is also a result of good coaches doing good work. It speaks to the integrity of coaches who do things the right way. That doesn’t mean they don’t question calls officials make or that they don’t get worked up every now and then. That’s part of the game. But it’s been my experience that most coaches will talk with officials in a professional, respectful manner.
The schools our crew has worked at are quite unique in their take on Friday night lights. We’ve worked at schools that shoot off fireworks with every score of the home team. One small school we work at has an announcer who sings the school fight song before every game. He’s a bit off-key, but you can hear the pride in his voice as he sings. Several schools play music over the loudspeakers that rivals anything heard at professional football games.
But what those schools all have in common is an emphasis on sportsmanship that allows game officials to walk through a crowd to get to the locker room. It might seem like a small thing. But it sends a big message that players, coaches and fans in Iowa view sportsmanship as important on Friday nights as the final score of the game.
— Mike Putz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org