‘Everyone is looking to get to that big game’

James Hogan, International City Football Officials Association

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports.Last week: Transfers

At Issue: The relationship between the Georgia High School Football Association and the various officials organizations across the state has never been perfect. Because of countless moving parts and an increase in the number of schools and games needed to be called, a state of the union for high school officiating becomes hard to provide. Viewpoints offer inconsistencies and, at times, contradicting information. Perhaps it's the nature of the beast. And it is a big beast. The almost 400 schools playing multiple sports in the state are served by more than 150 officials associations — more than 20 for football alone — representing thousands of referees. There are bound to be disagreements.

So what are the main issues affecting the men and women who call high school sports?

The Skinny: James Hogan is the executive signing secretary for the International City Football Officials Association based in Middle Georgia. Throughout Hogan's 30-year career he has seen first-hand many instances of how officiating has changed during the years and how that change has put different stresses on officials of all ages, locations and backgrounds.

“It’s a far cry from when I started when we would make it $35 a game,” Hogan said. “We make it a lot more than that now. Are we getting rich doing it? No. And so most of your officials are doing this just because of the love of the game.”

And that love has been tough to cultivate lately, according to some officials across the state. It stems from numerous areas, including social media’s pressures, the backlash in times where vocal supporters of various programs are getting increasingly louder and the general frustrations of time and travel to do the job. And on top of that, officials at times have become the faces of a win or a loss, whether they deserved to be or not.

But those pressures are just part of the responsibility of being an official, and it is something refs should prepare for entering the profession.

But, the burning question: Why did I sign up for this?

Hogan: "I think we have evolved over the years. It has always been a give-and-take type relationship with coaches. When officials realize that officiating is – in the football game – a coach's livelihood, we must take that seriously. Even if it is a part-time job for us, we have to go in with the mindset that we have to do our very best. So when you start looking at it in that respect, part of the calls you have to make and part of the reactions you get, that's just part of the game, right? So I don't see that as a negative at all. When I talk to new officials who come into my association, I tell them the same thing, so that is not anything that is deterring a guy from being an official. But some people can take it, others just cannot. That is just like any different job that you are going to have. There's going to be pressure.

“It really has to be a commitment. There is a lot of time involved from the beginning. What I feel is one of the downfalls in retaining officials is that everyone feels like they should be able to walk out on the varsity field when they first come on board. It took me three years to get out on a varsity football field. I had been training with recreation ball, junior-varsity and middle-school ball before I touched a varsity field.

“So I don’t see these pressures as a problem for gaining football officials when you look at what high school football officials are making. It is a far cry from when I started at $35 a game. Now you start to train and get better, right? A lot of your money is made because of the training aspect of it, because you are going to be able to do more recreation games and more junior-varsity games and more middle-school games. Then you are going to be a varsity official getting paid handsomely to do those games. When you look at the GHSA paying $62.50 for a junior-varsity game and you can get the same amount as a middle-school game that isn’t really regulated by the GHSA and it doesn’t require as much time ... you just can’t go to your local store and do your own hours and make that kind of money now.

“Now, there are so many schools and so many more games that we might have to use an official that only has one year of experience. And that is a deterrent. I see that. The other piece of it is, just like anything else, everyone is looking to get to that big game. But when you look at the number of games that are playoff games, a lot of guys could do 30 years and never get a championship game. So if that’s their goal, after a few years, you will see them decline to stay because they will think they cannot get there.

“That’s one of the things we and the GHSA have to work on. How do you continue to rotate the guys that are getting those games and make sure that you get the training so you can do those games? Right now, it is not a rotating-type basis. That is one of the deterrents. Every team, starting at the beginning of the year, they have the way to make it to the state championship. It’s called ‘win.’ The more you win, the more chances you must get to the championship game. With officiating, you are not always going to get that because it’s an evaluation type of scenario. You have to get to the point that, with the number of football officials associations that you have, you continue to rotate it so at least you will get one crew from each organization on a championship game within a five-year period. Say within five years an official does everything right and trained and (called) his games right, his testing, then he can get to that point.

“I was talking to you about some of the challenges that guys will have, and it will be retaining officials and making sure they can grow and build a pattern of growth. The training ... a lot of the camps are mandatory, and they might be in different locations. We must work to have more camps for the guys if we are going to make them mandatory so they can be closer to the areas they are in. Be mindful, these guys have regular jobs. And so if there's a camp that I have to go to in North Georgia, but I live in South Georgia, I got to travel up to that camp. I got to take Friday as a day off and then I have to spend Friday and Saturday at the camp and travel. So to make the camps closer to me, with more people being able to conduct camps, that would be a bit of help.

“To the guy who really wants to officiate high school football and is dedicated to it and strives to get better, he has to look at his disputed calls on video. Because I am more than 30 years in this, and I make mistakes. Sometimes I will get home that night and I think, ‘Man, how can I be better than that?’ I get it. So I’m going to the videos and I'm looking at videos from everything that we have in place to review footage. Sometimes I will say, ‘Hey, good. I did make the right call’ or ‘Man, I got to work that piece a bit better.’ So that is what the new official has got to get to. If you think that you are going to get out there and make a call and everybody is going to be happy you are sadly mistaken, right?”

AT ISSUE: High school officiating

• Ernie Yarbrough, GHSA assistant executive director
• Bill Palmer, Northeast Georgia official 
• James Frey, Gold Coast Officials Association
• James Hogan, International City Football Officials Association
• Freddie Stewart, Middle Georgia Football Officials Association
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