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High school sport officials work hard to ensure correct outcomes

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John Barry
September 22, 2013

Last Saturday's debacle in the desert left a sour taste in Badgerland.

The 18 seconds of chaos could cost the University of Wisconsin a lot of money if the controversial ending keeps the Badgers from an undefeated or one-loss season and a BCS berth.

And who's at the forefront of the debate? None other than the under-appreciated, underpaid, and in this case, seemingly unprepared officials.

The zebras have been the brunt of verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse since the first whistle was blown in a soccer game between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Norfolk in 1878.

Yet for every blown call that is made, there are 99 others that are spot on.

Officials—especially at the junior-high and high-school levels—have to have a love of the game. The pay is nothing great. Some coaches, and even a handful of parents, can be relentless on the attack. And, unlike the sporting events at the professional and collegiate level, there are no replays. Once a call is made, it stands.

Chris Nicholson is the director of officiating for the Janesville School District. Nicholson has the tireless job of trying to schedule a limited number of available officials to a wide range of Janesville sporting events.

 “There's a lot of work that goes into it, but I like what I do and I've enjoyed working for this district,” Nicholson said.

“There are a lot of things that go into being a good official in any sport, but the No. 1 thing is that you've got to love kids and do what's best for them.”

Nicholson said he did not see last Saturday's bizarre finish to the Wisconsin vs. Arizona State game. He did catch a replay, however, and came away with the same feeling most everyone else did except the Arizona State faithful.

“You have to let the kids decide the game,” Nicholson said. “And if that's not the case, then you at least have to give the coaches an explanation as to what just happened. I understand that crew did not do that.

“When the defense is over the ball and the clock is still running, you have to either stop the clock or throw a flag for delay of game.”

Although video replay was not used at the end of the Wisconsin game, it is an option in many situations. That's not the case in high school in any sport. Nicholson also said that the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) does not recognize protests—verbally or written. Officials' decisions are final.

Nicholson has been an official for 19 years. For the last 10 years, he has been in charge of a varsity football crew that also includes Dave Sheen, Bob Schenck, Jim Dilley and Dan Bothun of Janesville, along with Monroe's Corey Manlick. The crew has worked numerous WIAA playoff games, but no longer officiates a game involving Janesville teams.

“I don't care who wins or loses the game,” Nicholson said. “My job is to make sure it's officiated safely and fairly.

“But a couple of years ago we had an ugly situation with a Middleton and Parker (football) game where we, as officials, were in a no-win situation. In fairness to us as officials, and because we have many personal friendships with athletic directors and coaches, I decided we would no longer do Janesville games.”

The life of an official is not an easy one. Remaining anonymous is rule No. 1 for any official. It comes down to simply letting the athletes decide the game.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Bucky Badger.

John Barry is a sportswriter for The Gazette.



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