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Stembaugh: Student referees act as unsung heroes

Alex Stembaugh | Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The games have been intense, the rivalries ferocious and the excitement growing more heated by the week as the women’s interhall flag football season inches towards the championship matchup.

While the focus is often on the players, many forget about the student officials who referee the games, often with little recognition.

Training for new officials begins with an intensive three-day program that includes in-class instruction, on-field mechanics, and officiating practice games. After that, the referees begin working their first games, often with younger officials paired alongside top-performing veterans.

“The first experience obviously includes a lot of nerves and the fear of missing something or doing something wrong,” senior official Michael Jackson said.

Jackson emphasized preparation as key to success.

“Once I was able to calm those down it became a matter of working through what I had learned… The hardest rule to enforce is the one you do not know, so I spend a lot of time in the rule book to make sure I am prepared for all sorts of situations.”

While criticism from impassioned players, coaches and fans can be difficult to deal with, Jackson does not consider it the worst part of the job, seeing as such flak as unavoidable.

“I don’t think there’s a player or coach out there who could say they played or coached a perfect game, and there are not any officials who have ever officiated perfectly in a game either.”

Instead, Jackson said difficulty comes in officiating for students and friends.

“I think that off-the-field relationships can sometimes be affected negatively,” Jackson said, noting that he routinely crosses paths with participants on campus and tries to be courteous during games.

However, the cons of the job may be overcome by the benefits.

“There’s no greater feeling than to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you got a play right or that one of your partners made an excellent call,” Jackson said.

The greatest reward for referees may be the call to officiate the championship game.

“It was incredible to realize I was on the field in Notre Dame Stadium,” Jackson said of being the line judge for last year’s championship game. “It’s a really fun job in my opinion.”

Contact Alex Stembaugh at astembau@nd.edu