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Let 'em play, ref

Officials should do more than just keep the peace


   We are an impatient people, we Americans. Fast food lines are too slow, we stare at the microwave oven until our food is finally ready, and if the barista doesn’t finish our gourmet coffee less than a minute after we order, it’s taken far too long.

I won’t claim to be any different. If the traffic during my commute goes much slower than the speed limit, I’ll look for any opportunity to weave through cars and save myself a second here or there. It really doesn’t change the outcome of our days, but I think it says something interesting about our society: we really don’t like hold ups.

That includes sports. Those who gripe about soccer say there isn’t enough scoring. Baseball haters complain about how slow the game progresses. And with football, proponents of other sports always point out a team runs one play, only to wait around for a minute before snapping the ball again.

For most of us, we’ve accepted that. It’s part of football, and the delay has been integrated into the game, but Friday night’s contest at Cleveland High School was another story.

Three hours and fifty seven minutes. That’s how long the game lasted. Fans didn’t leave for home until after 11 p.m., and while much of that delay can be pinned on the five overtimes, there were other factors at play.

Throughout most of the first half, there seemed to be more flags than points, and more whistles from the officials than plays on the field. Every third play was a false start. St. Helens’ quarterback Gage Bumgardner’s speedy strike early in the first quarter was called back for a hold. A Cleveland player was sent off the field for wearing the wrong number, much to the disbelief of the coaching staff. At one point, the announcer played the theme from ‘Jeopardy,’ poking fun at exactly how long it took for the officials to come to a decision.

I understand that it was the first game for both teams. I even understand that it was the first game for the officials, one of which told me it was his first year officiating for the OSAA. What I don’t understand is why the game needed to be as slow as it was?

That brings into question what the role of the officials is. On the face of things, they are there to enforce the rules of the game, and to ensure players remain safe. Those are the most important facets of the job of a referee, but I think there is another part of officiating when it comes high school sports. The officials are also there to teach. They have a presence in the game the coaches don’t, in that they are the ones who make the final corrections. The bar for how the rules are laid down is set by the men in the striped shirts, and that makes it critical they do it the right way.

On Friday, that bar was set high and fast. There wasn’t any discussion with the player in question to explain what happened, and the same penalty was called again on the next down. On more than one occasion, the side judge noticed a player was lined up offsides before the ball was snapped. Instead of telling the player to move back an inch or two, the hand went to the flag and the official waited until the ball was in play before calling the foul.

I have a serious problem with that.

Sure, much of that correction falls to the coaching staff, but I’d like to see officials be more invested in the betterment of the athletes they are refereeing. If that’s not the case, it’s obvious. The coaches beg for an explanation, meanwhile the player is embarrassed as his team is marched backward. The game slows to a crawl, and fans get frustrated. If nobody learns anything, what is the point?

I’m not saying the officials should bend the rules, nor am I saying it’s the responsibility of those officials to coach the players on the field. If the athletes aren’t ready on game night, that’s not the fault of the umpire. But if the referees are there only for the inevitable slap on the wrist, they’ve got no place in high school football.