McCellis: Officiating is my pastime

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 2, 2000

Merriel McCellis has more throws in Natchez High School’s stadium than anyone ever has or likely ever will. But instead of footballs, McCellis hurls yellow flags on Friday nights.

This is the 31st season McCellis has refereed area football games, and it will be far from his last, he said.

&uot;I enjoy it. It’s my pastime,&uot; McCellis said. &uot;Some people fish, some people gamble, some have a garden. I do this.&uot;

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The 56-year-old retired social worker has lived in Natchez his entire life, and has followed and refereed Natchez football for decades, he said.

Compared to recent Bulldogs teams, he said, this year’s team can best be described as eager.

&uot;The players seem more anxious to prove they can play 5-A football,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s a tough league.&uot;

The last two years of Natchez High football have been down, McCellis said, because of a large graduating class three years ago.

But &uot;there are a few kids who didn’t get to play much the last few years who are finally getting to play and show off their talents,&uot; he said.

The change in this year’s Bulldog team is nothing new to McCellis, as the rules, participants and game of football are constantly changing, he said.

One of the more negative changes in football in recent years are players taking after poor college and professional role models, he said.

&uot;What has happened is you have players trying to emulate on Friday night what they see on Sunday and what the colleges allow their players to do,&uot; he said. &uot;Players dress the same way, not protecting their knees. You have trash talking.&uot;

These players and many fans don’t understand the nature of high school football, he said.

&uot;We are not for entertainment,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;Our game is for teaching the game and safety.&uot;

A greater emphasis on safety is by far the most positive change in recent years, McCellis said.

&uot;Our job as referees has become trying to minimize injuries,&uot; he said. &uot;We want to make sure players have a fair opportunity to participate without getting hurt.&uot;

Both improvements to equipment and new rules emphasizing player safety have made football a safer sport in recent years, McCellis said.

&uot;Football is a contact sport, and there are going to be injuries,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re trying to minimize the catastrophes.&uot;

Having a well-trained group officiating a game is necessary to minimize serious injuries, he added.

McCellis’ group, which includes umpire Leroy Strickland, lineman Gerald Lucas, line judge Fred Fuller and back judge Benard Riley, has worked together for several years.

&uot;We can anticipate each other’s moves, and help each other out all over the field,&uot; he said.

And they do move all over the field, he added.

&uot;Officials have to be in shape,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s hot, and we don’t get to come on and off the field.&uot;

And just as tired players often make mistakes, McCellis admitted that tired referees aren’t perfect, either.

&uot;I tell both captains before the game that I haven’t seen a perfect game played, and neither have I seen a perfectly officiated game,&uot; he said. &uot;But we’re going to be right in the high 90s, and that’s good enough to get on the honor roll.&uot;