Paul Valencia: No referee is immune to mistakes

Commentary: Paul Valencia

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter



Football officials want your understanding. It is a difficult job.

They want your compassion, remembering that every person makes mistakes, every person has made an error on the job.

They do not want your sympathy.

“Don’t feel sorry for them,” said longtime high school official Rick Gilbert, referring to the crew from The Sham in Seattle on Monday night. “They hold themselves out to know the rules.”

Even replacement officials.

“Those guys get paid a lot of money to be right. The call they made, in my opinion, is incorrect.”

Gilbert is on the board of directors for the Evergreen Football Officials Association. From the perspective of a man who has worn stripes for 27 years, he was more disappointed with the lack of teamwork between the officials than the call itself.

“We learn as officials, before you make a call, you look so you both have the same thing,” Gilbert said. “You don’t have a guy stopping a clock and having another guy give the touchdown signal.”

Gilbert said the officials in Seattle forgot an important key to officiating. Yes, there needs to be a decision. But the decision does not have to be instant. There is time to confer with one another.

John Williams, the president of the EFOA, said he does feel for the replacement officials, in general, for having to learn an entirely different rule book than what they have been accustomed to using over the years. Not that the difference in rules would have changed anything in Seattle.

Williams just meant that it must be difficult to go from Friday night or Saturday rules to the Sunday NFL rules. Earlier this season, he saw a replacement official rule a ball carrier down when he dove to the ground and got up before he was touched. That player is down in high school and college ball, but not the pro level.

“He is doing what he has done every Saturday for how many years,” Williams said.

And just like that, the official is making calls at the highest level of football, using “the most convulated” rulebook in sports, Wiliams said.

But Williams does agree with Gilbert that by accepting the job, they are accepting the responsibility that goes with it.

That is why Gilbert does not have much sympathy for the officials in the NFL.

“Those guys step on the field knowing a gazillion people are going to be watching that game. You gotta be on your A-game,” he said.

Whether it is a nationally televised game or a high school playoff game or a youth football Week 1 contest, there are hundreds of decisions a game to be made.

“There isn’t an official that doesn’t miss a call somewhere down the line,” Gilbert said. “We’re only human.”

They all have stories of blown calls, too.

Gilbert recalled a field goal in a playoff game in a close game. The kick was no good, but the defense roughed the holder. Gilbert missed it.

“I looked up for a minute to see if the kick was good, which was not my responsibility, and missed the roughing,” Gilbert said.

By the time he looked back, he knew something had happened, but because he did not see the action, he could not call a penalty.

“I remember that, and I feel bad about it,” he said.

Williams said he wished he had the luxury of instant replay on several calls he has made over the years.

And then there is the bad fortune that goes with a mistake, he said.

“It seems that any inadvertent whistle results in a play that went 65 yards for a touchdown,” Williams said.

All officials feel bad when they miss a call.

But they are not immune to criticism, not even a critique from those who also wear stripes.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at