Local football officials slated to work upcoming bowl games

By Greg Gulas

BOARDMAN — The Mid-American Conference football season is now a fading memory, but two local MAC officials, Jim Visingardi of Poland and Rob Luklan of Canfield will have their seasons extended.

They have been named to the officiating staffs of the Emerald Bowl and Hawaii Bowl.

Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly luncheon meeting at the Blue Wolf Banquet Center, both officials acknowledged that their recently completed seasons were action packed but a postseason selection remains the icing on the cake.

Visingardi, a side judge who completed his 15th season in the MAC and 34th grid campaign overall between the white lines, is making his 11th consecutive post-season appearance.

Luklan, a back judge, finished his 10th year in the league and his 20th overall on the gridiron.

The latter will be honored with a sixth straight postseason assignment.

“I have been very fortunate in that Jim [Visingardi] has been there for me every step along the way,” Luklan said. “His willingness to help not only me, but others on staff is well-documented and has been, without question, a big part of the success that we have enjoyed over the years.”

Both Luklan and Visingardi are past-presidents of the MAC Football Officials Association and Curbstone Coaches Hall of Fame inductees.

The two worked the Sun Bowl last year (a game that saw Oregon defeat South Florida, 56-21) in El Paso, Tex., Prior to this season, they traveled to Italy to help school the officials of the Italian Football League.

The league, which drew national attention in the highly-acclaimed John Grisham book, “Playing for Pizza” (released in 2007), was in dire need of direction for its officials. When former MAC supervisor of officials, Carl Paganelli was contacted for his help, Luklan and Visingardi were two of his selections.

“There are two tiers in the IFL and the first tier includes three American players which are allowed on a team’s roster,” Visingardi said. “Those American players usually include the quarterback or wide receiver on offense, and an athletic linebacker-type on defense.

“It’s a brutal game played by tough individuals; a game that is probably a cut above the Division III level in the states,” Visingardi said. “The biggest difference is their lack of overall speed.”

Luklan, who was abroad for nine days, worked two games and was exposed to three of the nine IFL teams (Milan Rhinos, Bolzano Giants and Ancona Dolphins).

Visingardi, whose father was born in Italy, was selected to work the Italian Super Bowl, a 56-54 win by the Bergamo Lions over the Giants.

“It was truly an experience of a lifetime,” Luklan said. “We were treated in a first-class manner form the time we got off the plane until the time we boarded the plane for our return trip to the states.”

Visingardi echoed Luklan’s sentiments.

“The crowds during the regular season were very sparse; sometimes as little as 250 or 300 fans in attendance,” Visingardi said. “For their Super Bowl, however, nearly 20,000 flocked to the stadium so you can see the big deal it is for the entire country.

“While soccer and basketball remain their top two sports, this brand of football is catching on, slow but sure,” Visingardi said.

Next week, Bill Castrovince, sports director at WYTV/Channel 33 will serve as speaker.

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