There have been times in this column space when I haven’t been easy on the men and women who officiate local high school sports.
I try to give the officials the benefit of the doubt, but every now and then, must call it like I see and point out a badly missed call or — on some rare occasions — calls that seem strongly slanted in favor of one team.
That said, 99 percent of those who sacrifice their time for a comparatively small payment are people of honor.
I’ve gotten to know many of the officials — some by name, others by face. We will chitchat before a game and, sometimes, during the event, as time permits.
One of the men officiating high school basketball in the area is former Northwest Florida State College baseball coach Keith Griffin. I got to know Griffin when I covered Raider baseball for the Northwest Florida Daily News.
Griffin worked the Baker-Laurel Hill girls basketball game I was covering Thursday night. During the game, we talked about the recent Baseball Hall of Fame elections, for which nobody was elected, and Alabama’s win over Notre Dame for the National Championship in football.
I will chuckle sometimes when a coach is giving Griffin a hard time because I saw him give enough umpires plenty to think about during his days with the Raiders.
There are times I joke with the officials before the game and tell them not to call it tight so we can get home and watch a game on TV or maybe catch an early supper.
Sometimes, it seems as if they agree with me. But perhaps it’s more of a case that the teams are playing a clean game than anything else.
In reality, I need to be in the officials’ good graces to do my job more easily. Often, I let the officials know that I’ll be taking photographs of baseball or softball games and where I’ll be standing.
By rule, teams are supposed to provide a marked photographers box, but many umpires will let me have some flexibility where I stand; they know I’m aware of my surroundings and will get out of the way.
I try to work with the officials as they work with me so that everyone wins in the end.
My angles to plays often are similar to officials’.
Sometimes, I’ll agree with the call; other times, I won’t. There are times when a photograph I take proves the official was right, despite the howling masses of fans in the stands.
In my younger days, when I was more of a fan and less of a writer, I was a good heckler. I could work an officiating crew or the opposing team, but I would never go after a team that wasn’t at least at the college level.
Once, I singlehandedly won a pizza for being the rowdiest section at a University of Tennessee baseball game, but I did so without profanity and with plenty of humor. Although that poor pitcher from the University of Georgia probably didn’t find my questions about his control and eye sight so funny.
In the end, everyone has a job to do at a game. A coach is there to coach, players to play, officials to call the game, media to cover the game and fans to cheer on their favorite team.
It would be hypocritical of me to say fans shouldn’t give the officials a hard time when they deserve it. But I would encourage fans to think before they yell something stupid.
Anyone who’s called a youth league basketball game or church league softball game will tell you officiating isn’t easy.
I once read that being a sports official was the only job in the world where you had to be perfect the first day and improve from there.
Come to the games and cheer your teams and even jeer the officials, but remember: officials are human too and they are doing their best.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524