It’s been a little weird being involved with football during the spring, but it’s been a nice slice of normality after everything that we’ve been through as a society over the last year. As the parent of a high school football player, I’m just thankful and relieved that my son Bradley, as well as each and every player, coach and family that had their fall seasons postponed because of COVID-19, is back on the field. But, as much as there is excitement from the players and coaches on the field and the spectators in the stands, I’m also extremely happy for another group of important people that have benefitted from the return of football – the officials.
Sure, the men and women in the striped shirts can be a lightning rod for conversation, especially when a coach doesn’t like a call or in many cases when a parent doesn’t like a call.
But the reality is that without the officials, you can’t play the game. You don’t just throw two teams on the field and kick the ball off like it’s a two-hand touch game on a field in the town park. The officials are an essential part of the game and as much as we’re excited to see the kids back on the field and the coaches back on the sideline with the headsets on, I think it’s important to show love for the officials who have also missed being on the field.
Truth be told, I may be a little biased because my best friend is a high school football official in Maryland. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to meet some great people who have worked with him on various crews. In fact, a couple of years ago when I was broadcasting indoor football games, two of my friend’s colleagues worked games in the National Arena League and I now consider them to be dear friends as well. A few weeks ago, I was doing public address for a college football game on Long Island and it was just wonderful to see one of them on the crew. For so many of these officials, not having games to do in the fall meant lost wages so I think it’s great to see them back on the field.
The health and safety of the officials are very important as well. I believe it’s important to recognize their efforts because without them agreeing to work games while also managing the games to protect the kids and the coaches, the return of football could not be a reality. Even before the pandemic, there had been some media reports here in the New York area about a shortage of game officials for high school sports – especially football. It’s actually been a breath of fresh air to see these very dedicated people have the opportunity to work games again. Perhaps one of the silver linings out of all of this is that their efforts could possibly inspire others to become officials because the numbers are troubling.
Two weeks ago, I was working the chains for my son’s high school football game and I had a chance to chat with the side judge for a few minutes.
“It’s not good,” he said when I asked him if there is a problem in our area with the number of officials.
Football officials can often be perceived as the “bad guys” because you might not like a call or perhaps a call that wasn’t made. My son Bradley has been playing football for eleven years and during that time I’ve seen and heard a lot of verbal abuse directed at the officials that would make you cringe. I can’t tell you that I never disagreed with a call that was made because that would just not be the truth. Although, I’ve always felt this way when it comes to that. The officials are human, and they make mistakes just like my son, or any other player, has made on the field.
So, while I’m excited that Bradley is playing football, I think it’s also great that the officials are busy this spring on the field. I won’t mention my best friend’s name or the names of his colleagues, but I actually think it would be pretty cool one day if any of them ever officiate a game that Bradley is playing in.
If that ever happens, I just hope they call a good game…they wouldn’t want to feel my wrath – just kidding.
Welcome back, officials!
Peter is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network and WFAN Radio in New York. His son Bradley is a freshman in high school and is a participant in the U.S. National Team program while his younger son Jared enjoys playing flag football. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a high school or flag football field.
At USA Football, we've got your back as you begin to go back to the field. Our recommendations for a responsible return are here – guidelines, infographics, videos, checklists and more.