NIWOT — Love them or hate them, officials are as necessary as pads and helmets if there is to be a high school football game played on any given Friday night.
While the number of available high school officials has dropped statewide, Area 8, which includes the Boulder and Longmont regions, has seen an increase in interested officials and is still looking for more to keep up with new programs popping up.
But what does it take to get an official ready to make sure a high school football game runs smoothly and safely in Colorado? Area 8 director of Boulder/Longmont football officials Stephen Cunningham knows best.
“It all depends on how people develop,” Cunningham said. “When you’re ready, you’re ready. It’s about getting the experience and how well you do once you get out on the field. It’s just like any other job. Sometimes it takes a year and sometimes it takes five years.”
That experience doesn’t begin under the Friday night lights, according to Cunningham. It begins, like most things, with an interest and a general knowledge of the craft.
Then, it’s time to hit the books.
Prospective officials must attend a certain number of rules courses and meetings to learn the rules and what to watch for in certain situations. Then it’s on to the field to learn spatial awareness and technique. After that, new officials team with veteran crews to practice what they’ve learned at various high school teams’ preseason scrimmages.
Typically, new officials spend their first year officiating sub-varsity games and this process repeats every year until each is ready to move up to the varsity level. In order to become varsity-eligible, the Colorado Football Officials Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations require each official to pass a written exam with a score of 85 percent or higher.
Doug Ross, an 18-year veteran of high school football officiating, has been through it all. But since high school officials are paid $40-45 for sub-varsity and $50-60 for varsity games, Ross said most officials join the ranks out of interest in football or as a way to give back to the community.
“If you’re into it just for the money, it’s probably not worth it,” said Ross, who is a police sergeant for the city of Longmont. “But if you love football and working with kids, and you want to make an impact, then it’s a good way to get involved.”
Many officials are former players or coaches, and their ages range from recent college graduates to retired professionals.
Area 8 covers from Broomfield to Fort Collins, north to south, and from Brush to Weld Central, east to west. At the end of last year, Area 8 had 18-20 officials. Now Cunningham has 30 officials signed up to start the season after a crew from Greeley transferred in and more people are signing up. Still, in order to cover the increasingly crowded schedule and to avoid being shorthanded at games, Cunningham and Area 8 are always looking for new officials.
“Quite honestly, it’s out of necessity,” Cunningham said. “When you have all these schools to cover and you have 15-18 guys working on a Friday night, that doesn’t leave a lot of guys left over to do sub-varsity games. Fortunately, we’ve been able to cover it but it’s a lot better when you have more guys in the queue and we want people to know it’s not too late to start for the upcoming season.”
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