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Monday, August 1, 2005
Officials deal with more responsibility

By Amy Donaldson
Deseret Morning News

      In Scott Maxfield's 28 years of officiating basketball and football, the prevailing sentiment has always been that if a fight breaks out during a high school sporting event, an official should just write down jersey numbers and handle the ejections.
      "That never sat right with me," he said. So with two very experienced lawyers at his disposal during the National Association of Sports Officials annual meeting being held at the downtown Marriott this weekend, he asked what they thought.
      "How many of you have heard, 'Never touch a player?' " asked sports law attorney and author of "Sports Officiating: A Legal Guide" Alan Goldberger. Most of the officials in the room raised their hands.
      "There is little that is further from the truth," he said during one of several sessions held Sunday and Monday which are meant to help officials deal with issues from leadership to recruiting to the use of instant replay at the high school level.
      If a fight breaks out during a game, and the officials do nothing but write down jersey numbers, Goldberger said, "Your game is down the toilet and your career is not far behind it . . . In my game nobody fights."
      The attorney, who also officiates and writes for Referee Magazine, points out that it is the responsibility of officials to preserve the integrity of the game and protect the athletes involved. He said any excuse to do anything other than get involved is a "cop out."
      "Does that mean you have to put your hands on somebody?" He asked the group of about 300 officials. "I think it does."
      Goldberger, Lowell Gratigny, the senior vice president of claims management for NASO's insurance agency, and Steven Ellinger, the executive director for the Texas Association of Sports Officials, all pointed out that an official can usually avoid physical confrontations by managing the game well before players start throwing punches.
      "Generally, there is something that leads up to the fight," Ellinger said.
      Gratigny said he's seeing more and more fights break out among younger and younger athletes and their fans. One incident he discussed involved a tournament of nine and 10-year-old baseball players.
      Those officials attending and hosting the conference admit the possibility of litigation has increased with the possibility that violence may occur. While officials are being saddled with more responsibility, they're also facing more violent fans, players and coaches.
      Bill Topp, vice president of publishing and management services for NASO and Referee Magazine, said there is a direct correlation between the declining numbers of officials and the increasing number of assaults on officials.
      "There is an increasing lack of civility in society, and that's translated into sports," Topp said. As one person pointed out, officials deal with more troublesome and difficult situations for about $62 to officiate football and much less for other sports.
      Maxfield laughs when asked about the monetary compensation.
      "I do this to give something back to the game," he said. "This is a means to be able to do that."
      Topp adds that most officials take on the responsibility because they feel a "duty to the game. They have to buy into the fact that they're caretakers of the game. Your pay is never going to reflect that."
      This weekend's conference, which celebrates NASO's 25th anniversary, will touch on many of the issues facing officials and offer them some advice on how to deal with them. At a lunch meeting the officials listened to several speakers talk about leadership and how they are in a position of influence.
      Other sessions discussed topics like the expanding responsibilities of sports officials and the art of verbal judo. Monday officials will break into smaller groups in the afternoon to discuss issues pertaining to specific sports. About 15 Utah officials and members of the Utah High School Activities Association are participating in the event.


© 2005 Deseret News Publishing Company