Viewfinder: Football officiating crew takes job, rules seriously
Editor’s note: The Viewfinder is a regular feature where a staff photographer finds a story that highlights the diversity of our community.
NATCHEZ — The men of the Louisiana High School Officials Association live by simple rules when they step out onto the gridiron: See what you call and call what you see.
The Alexandria-based crew that officiated the Vidalia football jamboree Saturday night doesn’t always work together, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the seamless way they worked. Each official has a specific job for which they are responsible, from the clock operator, typically the least experienced of the crew, to the referee, who is charged with the overall supervision of the game.
Before the game starts, 28-year veteran and head referee John Hill likes to bring all the officials together for what he calls their “pre-game ritual.”
The black and white uniformed men gather around in a quiet place and discuss rules, mechanics and their positioning during different scenarios that may arise. They also go over any rule changes since the previous season and special plays that either team may run.
“We have to be as mentally into the game as the coaches and players are,” back judge Richard Bullock said.
The officials also discuss safety related rules that they want to watch for closely such as helmet-to-helmet contact, targeting, spearing and any other injury-causing actions.
“The majority of the rules are for the safety,” head linesman Kevin Cavell said. “The biggest concern we have is the safety and the following of the rules for all players.”
After finishing their pre-game talk the officials head out to the field where the referee and umpire talk to the head coaches about what they expect from them, as well as to ensure all players are properly equipped. The other officials inspect the field and discuss last-minute details before the coin toss.
Once play has begun the real work begins and, for better or worse, they do their job.
“Sometimes it’s split second stuff, but you’ve got to have enough confidence in what you’re doing to make those calls,” Bullock said. “The good thing about football is, every time you throw a yellow flag, you make half the people mad at you.”
The safety of the players, not recognition, is their motivation.
“If we leave here and nobody knows our name, that means we’ve done an excellent job,” Hill said.