Economy and sports officiating

There might be as many reasons to take up officiating as there are sports to referee.

By Bill Sullivan

Vindicator sports staff

Some men might be done with football but football isn’t always done with them.

When Don Muth’s son Adam graduated from Canfield High School in June, Don figured it was time to try officiating the sport that had become an important part of his life.

Officiating. Why officiating, Don?

“I wanted to stay in touch with football,” the elder Muth said.

His son played quarterback for the Cardinals last fall and Don is a former president of the school’s gridiron club. But, officiating is a new experience for Muth, 51.

“A parent talked me into taking the officiating class with him. It has nothing to do with the money we make.”

Muth said by officiating he hopes to “be more active with football,” but the duty has changed his perspective on the game.

“I was one of the people who booed the officials,” Muth confessed. “I’ll never boo an official again.

“I now have a totally different view. Officials really try to get it right.”

So far Muth has held the chains during some high school games and has been on the field officiating a few pee-wee league games.

“It takes a different breed of guy to officiate,” Muth said. “They look out for the kids, their safety.

“They really try to get every call right. It gives you a different view of the game.”

With the recent dismal economic environment, it may seem that some unemployed people may begin to seek work officiating high school sporting events.

From the sidelines, being a football referee may look easy. (Hint: It’s not).

A quick review of area high school football, soccer and volleyball officiating associations suggests that there has not been an outpouring of new members but some sports have had more new members than others.

Despite what a nationwide survey reported, the Mahoning Valley has remained relatively consistent in attracting new officials.

“Overall, there has not been a spike in the number of officials,” said Fred Vicarel, the Northeast District Secretary of Officials.

“There’s not been much change since 2004,” Vicarel said.

In the Northeast District there are about 6,600 officials working high school sports ranging from baseball to football to wrestling.

New officials must take an adult education class as mandated by the OHSAA.

Vicarel ran into five new football officials last week, working a scrimmage. They gave him a variety of reasons for trying to be referees.

“One said it was the next best thing to playing football,” Vicarel said.

“Not one mentioned the pay they’d receive.”

He added, “Brand new officials must serve an apprenticeship. Some want to start out working the Ohio State-Michigan game and they belong down at Volney Rogers [youth league].”

The secretary/treasurer of the Youngstown District Football Officials Association is Jim Gahagan who’s been working for the group for 29 years.

“We’re higher than normal, due some to the economy,” Gahagan said.

In 2007 and 2008 there were about 135 members of the YDFOA and this fall there are 140 members.

“Over the past 4-5 years, we average 10-15 new officials,” Gahagan said. “This year there are 20-21.”

Volleyball has remained consistent.

In 2008 there were 82 members of the Mahoning Valley Volleyball Officials Association and this season the group has 86 workers.

Those numbers reflect nine new officials in 2008 and 12 new members in 2009.

“It’s about the same as last year; nothing drastic happens,” said Jim Pepperney, secretary-treasurer to the group.

He’s been officiating high school volleyball for three decades.

“Some move away and some retire but overall we stay about the same,” Pepperney said.

While there’s always a demand for premium soccer officials, the local high school association has maintained a consistent roster of workers.

“There’s been no net increase; we’ve been in the mid-50s the last couple of years,” said Barry Brooks.

Brooks, the assignor of high school officials and vice president of the Mahoning Valley Soccer Officials Association, has 24 years of seniority with the group.

In 2008 they had seven new officials take the soccer class and in 2009 10 new members went through the class.

There were about 57-58 members of the association who worked high school ball in 2007 and 2008.

This year the number has increased to 62.

“There’s not a significant number of new officials,” Brooks said.

“What we have seen is many current officials who are willing to do additional games. People are taking more games.”

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