Co-Written By: John DiColo, CMAA - Athletic Director and William Koch, HPE Instructor/Coach - Jefferson Twp. HS
Contributions By: Bill Fitzgerald, CMAA - Asst. Principal/Activities - Fremont HS and Matt Hensley, Asst. Principal/Activities - Mahomet - Seymour HS
"Be loud, be decisive, be gone!" is a creed preached to all new officials but spend some time at an athletic event and you will notice that their job is not what we assume. There are very few of us that would allow ourselves to be under such intense scrutiny from coaches, players and parents. Their purpose for doing what they do is simple - they have an affinity for the sport and a passion to see student athletes succeed. I bet you can count on a single hand how many times, if ever, that you have seen an appreciation or kind gesture to one of these people who give up time to be there for us.
This is where we start our analysis as to how an official should be hosted at an event - a topic that is easily and often overlooked. We have contacted several Athletic Directors, Officials themselves as well as Directors from our State Association to discuss this very issue and we have come up with a few 'best practice' hosting techniques for your consideration.
Pre-season and pre-game reminders – On an annual basis, it is a good idea to provide officials with a reminder about upcoming contests. Most schools and officials are well-versed in using electronic communication, making it easy to send reminders, even if you use an assignor. All reminders should include date, time, location and the names of officiating partners or crew members.
Parking spots - Officials should be there in ample time to find parking but doesn't it feel nice to have a spot reserved for you. You can assign a letter/varsity club member to greet them and escort them into the building on arrival.
Guidance - It is hard for an official, especially new to your building or grounds, to know exactly what or where the contest is. Someone should be on site waiting for an official in order to show them where things are - this is a great help to them in many cases but certainly for those attending your facility for the first time. Also, giving them a quick exit strategy is reassuring. Another option is for the AD or event supervisor/site manager to meet and greet the officials and escort them to the official's room prior to the contest. Having a coach greet the officials can also help the relationship between the coach and the official. They often share "war stories", can dialogue about rules/calls from previous games for clarification, etc.
Officials room - Allow officials a spot for reprieve during halftime or a simple place to change and store their personal belongings. If it is an office that is used by personnel during the day make sure it is clean and has all the amenities you would provide for your patrons such as ample seating and room, paper towels, soap in dispensers, etc. Personally inspect the room prior to use, and make sure the custodial crew hits it before they arrive to make sure it is clean and acceptable for their use.
Food - The best way to a person's heart is through their stomach. Let your officials eat and drink on you, within reason of course. If the concession stand is the responsibility of a booster club and they depend on the profits, make a seasonal donation to the club to cover the estimated costs of the hospitality for the officials. Popcorn, candy bars, and drinks usually help them feel more comfortable, and if there are leftovers, a hotdog or a piece of pizza after the game hits the spot.
Prompt Payment - The single most important issue raised by the many officials we contacted was in reference to payment. If possible, officials should be compensated at the event or within a few days. Since the accounting process at some schools involves vouchers, make sure the officials are aware of this, and ask them to contact the Athletic Office if they have not been paid within a week's time. They gave up their time to be at your contest so that is the least we could do.
Invitations to the event - Some schools have big rivalry games with events going on before, during or after the contest. Although they may not take you up on it, invite the officials to be a part of the community in which they just served or the event itself. Officials should receive reminders of not only when they are scheduled to work those games, but what is going on during the event. It helps to make them feel at ease and not have any unexpected delays or intrusions in their work environment. If your school creates a "game night agenda" for visiting teams, providing a copy to officials ensures that they have all necessary information at their fingertips. If you have halftime events or activities at your contests that may extend the duration of the halftime be sure to let the officials know in advance as well.
Security Escorts - As is the case with many of the venues where our athletes compete, the officials are forced to exit the playing area in very close proximity to spectators. Providing security personnel to escort the officials back to their changing area at halftime and at the conclusion of the contest gives those officials comfort and at the same time discourages spectators from approaching or shouting at them as they pass. If possible, a back exit door to leave after the contest is preferred, especially if it has been a tense game. Regardless of the outcome, they need to feel safe and secure after the event. The parking spot should be close to this area as well.
Thank you - Frequently officials remember kindness. Regardless of the outcome, walking them back to their changing room, thanking them for their efforts, and making sure the area is secure makes them feel as though they do matter. A simple thank you note in their official room goes a long way. Bill Edelman, Athletic Director at Vernon in Northern NJ, gives a note with a small candy. You would be surprised how many officials appreciated that token, regardless of what they heard during the event.
Officials, like us, have a love for sport and truly want to see our student athletes succeed in competition. Referees should always be respected for what they do and we can all acknowledge the fact that they are constantly under the microscope from everyone at the contest as well as themselves. Let us as the athletic community support what they do and consider them before every contest - it truly goes a long way.