McCelleis reflects on over a century of football, basketball and baseball

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; In 37 years of officiating high school sports, Merriel McCelleis has seen it all.

During that span he has officiated over a combined 105 sports seasons, refereed countless state and district championships, and seen the games he loves change.

Indeed, McCellieis is a virtual walking library of local high school sports history. From refereeing games that featured state legends, such as Chris Jackson and Hugh Green, to last week&8217;s girls&8217; state high school all-star game in Jackson, McCellies has been there to make the call.

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&8220;It has always been a labor of love for me,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;Officiating was something I could throw myself into whole-heartedly and at the end of the day know I did the best job that I was capable of.&8221;

It goes without saying that in 37 years of officiating McCelleis has grown thick skin.

&8220;I have heard it all, most of which I can&8217;t repeat. Some fans are professional hecklers,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;It&8217;s when folks aren&8217;t cussing or throwing stuff that you know you did a good job.&8221;

McCelleis recounts one game between West Point and Wayne County in which the local sheriffs on hand for security guarded the officiating crew in the locker room for 30 minutes after the game, for fear of the referees&8217; safety.

But, through all those years of officiating, none of it ever got to McCelleis, who takes the heckling and shouting in stride.

To do the job for that long takes a special person &8212; one who is not bent on personal recognition &8212; and McCelleis is someone who naturally fits that mold.

&8220;I always tell people as an official you don&8217;t want but two people to know your name &8212; the head coach and the lady that signs the checks,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;I get more out of hearing the words &8216;nice game&8217; than I do when a coach shakes my hand.&8221;

Through the years the rules have changed as much as the faces of those playing, and according to McCelleis it has not all been for the better.

&8220;Basketball, has changed the most, the focus is all offense, but the truth is the offensive game is not any better today,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;I think the dunk and the three-pointer (have) taken away from the finesse of the offensive game. Ball movement is a lost art. Today&8217;s players all seem to want to fit into that Allen Iverson type of me-first personality.&8221;

The art of officiating has changed as well.

&8220;When I first started it was done more by the seat of your pants. There were very few rulebooks circulating around,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;But my philosophy never changed I always saw myself as not being there to make calls, but there to manage the game.&8221;

But the changes to the game have done nothing to diminish McCelleis&8217; love for the game or the memories he has made over the years, both are permanently etched in his heart and mind.

A big part of McCelleis&8217; day-to day duties now, as official assignment secretary for the state&8217;s southwest district, involves bringing in the next generation of referees.

&8220;Recruiting officials is tough; a lot of people get into it for the wrong reasons and then quickly get out of it,&8221; McCelleis said. &8220;It takes a genuine enthusiasm for the game to be an official. Like the marines say, &8216;We&8217;re looking for a few good men.&8217; I&8217;m looking for a few good people.&8221;