Four Questions with official Bill Palmer

GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Bill Palmer, the executive assigning secretary for the Northeast Georgia Officials Association in Elberton. Palmer has officiated Georgia high school football games for 47 years.

Bill Palmer, official 

1. What is the most memorable game that you've officiated? "The most memorable game I ever officiated occurred in the late 1980s when two legendary high school coaches pitted their teams against each other. Coach Jim Lofton was coaching at North Hall and brought his boys down to Hart County High, where coach Bobby Pate led the Bulldogs of Hartwell. North Hall was considered a real underdog coming into that game, especially given that Hart was led by the great tailback David Jackson. The game was a see-saw affair with neither team getting much traction, and North Hall led by seven late in the game. The Trojan defense had throttled Jackson for most of the night. Late in the fourth quarter, North Hall punted. Jackson took the kick deep in his own territory, got hit, spun off the contact and found a seam, taking him all the way to paydirt. When the smoke cleared, back up around midfield, a bright yellow square of nylon was lying upon the turf. Hart was penalized for a clip, and the TD was nullified. Interestingly, the official who made the call was a former college roommate of Coach Pate's. Hart was not able to mount a score in the waning minutes and lost the game. An angry mob of Hart fans followed the officials out to the parking lot and began shaking the car we were in. We had to make a hasty exit out of Hart County, making it very memorable, indeed." 

2. What is a rule or a situation that many fans, players or coaches don't understand or appreciate? "The difficulty for high school fans is that the rules they see enforced on Saturday and Sunday are not the same rules as those applied on Friday nights. The two biggest differences are in the passing rules and the blocking rules. For instance, in high school there is only one legal way for a QB to throw a pass away to conserve time or distance. That is for the QB to take a direct snap from under center and to immediately spike the ball into the ground. Any other pass that is thrown must have a receiver in the vicinity, and there is no such thing as 'uncatchable' in high school rules. Many fans and even some coaches think that when a QB is 'out of the box,' then he can throw the ball into the band and it should not be a foul. In blocking, except for the free blocking zone (the area right around the ball at the snap), there is no blocking below the waist allowed. In college and professional rules, some low blocking is allowed. For instance, Georgia Tech employs the cut block extensively to spring their triple-option offense, yet in high school that is not allowed." 

3. Who is the best player you've seen in a game that you've officiated? "In 2000, I and my crew were working a game at Oglethorpe County versus Monticello High School. During that game, Monticello had an athlete who played running back on offense, linebacker on defense and returned punts and kickoffs. In other words, he never left the field. On this night, he had three or four touchdowns as a running back, intercepted a pass and returned it for a pick six, and returned a punt for a TD. On defense he must have had about 20 tackles, many for loss. He completely dominated the game, which was won easily by Monticello. After the game, I went over to coach Steve Patterson of Monticello and asked: 'Who is that kid?' Steve smiled and answered: 'That is Odell Thurman.'" 

4. What football or GHSA rule would you like to see changed? "There are two rules that I would love to see the National Federation change that would make it better for everyone. One is the aforementioned passing rule. If the NFHS would make the rules similar to the NCAA rules, it would make life better for the officials and the players. High school players see the QB roll out of the pocket in college, and when there is nothing there, he is allowed to throw the ball away. In high school, the rule makes the QB either try to force the pass into a covered receiver or make him run with the ball, and most high school coaches do not want their QB running the ball, with exceptions for the likes of Justin Fields, etc. The second rule is the high school rule that requires seven players on the line of scrimmage. NCAA rules say simply that you can have no more than four in the backfield. If you have four backs and six on the line (playing with 10) then so be it; it only hurts your team. If the NFHS would lean toward the NCAA rule, we would have much cleaner games. Most of us can count to four (backs), and that is so much easier than wing officials having to count the players on their side of the center and signal to the opposite wing and hope that everybody gets it done before they snap the ball. With the spread offenses and multiple receivers and slot personnel, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get that all done by the time they get set and snap it. The game would be simpler, and we would have fewer penalties and missed calls, in my humble opinion." 

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