Right in the middle of the action

Long-time officials hope there will be others down the road to fill their shoes

Al Smith, Todd Kennedy, Denny Wallace and Ryan Thomas have been officiating high-school football together in southwest Wyoming for more than 16 years.

Smith hopes there will be others like that crew, which also includes Judd Kishpaugh, down the road. 

“Everyone has been losing officials forever, and it’s becoming a problem,” Smith, a longtime football referee and basketball official, said.

Smith, Kennedy, Wallace, Thomas, Kishpaugh, and fill-in official Merle Lester are on the road every Friday night during the fall season, calling games in places such as Evanston, Bridger Valley, Green River, Rock Springs, Cokeville, Star Valley, Kemmerer and Pinedale. 

The crew most recently did Mountain View’s first-round playoff game against Thermopolis. 

“It’s all local people that do this for the good of the kids,” Smith said. “You’re not doing it to get rich. You either love it or hate it. There’s no in between for officiating, because you either have the bug or you don’t. I love to officiate.”

But Smith said it’s becoming harder to attract talent. He points to several reasons why.

“The biggest thing, I think, are fans and coaches,” Smith said. “I don’t think younger guys are going to put up with stuff they get from the public. Guys like us that have been doing it forever, we’re fine with it.”

Smith noted the majority of the coaches in Wyoming are understanding when someone new enters the officiating game, but that’s not always the case.

Smith also pointed to work schedules not being flexible, making it hard for some to officiate day and night games on Fridays. Officiating two games in one day has become more of the norm as football officials dwindle in numbers.

“You’ve got to make a big time commitment if you want to do this,” Smith said. 

For Smith, the positives of officiating have always outweighed the negatives.

“I like the atmosphere and I like the kids that play,” he said. “It’s super exciting because you’re right in the middle of the action. You are right in the middle of craziness all the time. You see the best players from the best seat in the house.”

Smith also oversees the scheduling for basketball officials for the junior-high and junior-varsity levels. He assigns officials to games and works with up-and-coming officials who are looking to jump up in the ranks. 

Smith noted there is not a lot of crossover between football and basketball, although it is possible. He also said the current state of basketball officiating isn’t as alarming as football, as far as numbers. 

“If you want to enjoy it, you have to know what you’re doing,” Smith said. “Being uneducated about the rules when you are in charge of the rules is a recipe for disaster. You can’t do that.”

In order to officiate in Wyoming, one must register with the state, watch an online clinic and pass an open-book test. Those who want to officiate at sub-varsity levels are not required by the state to take the test, but Smith makes everyone working under him take it. 

In order to be eligible to officiate a playoff game for football or basketball, officials must pass a closed-book test and attend a state clinic. 

Smith said new officials will likely spend three years at the middle school or junior-varsity levels before working up to varsity in both sports. 

“The officials know the rules, but it takes a lot of studying,” Smith said. “There’s stuff all the time that officials are continuing to learn and get better at.” 

Smith, the owner of A+ Trophy and Signs, said those interested in officiating either sport may contact him.

He said officiating over the years with his longtime crew has been one of the biggest rewards.

“You have the camaraderie with the crew,” Smith said. “You have your family of five.”

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