Most of these ref stories will fall into one of two categories -- my stupidity, or people who take football way more serious than the average person. They will not be about the nuts and bolts of the sport and I feel pretty certain that even the most unsporty of readers will be able to follow along and chuckle.
This week's installment takes place in tiny Hedley, Texas. Should you want to learn more you can follow the link but basically the town is 87 miles south east of Amarillo and boasts a population just shy of four hundred. The Hedley Owls play six man football instead of the traditional eleven a side. The entire high school grades 9-12 has less than a hundred students and with a good percentage of those being female fielding a regular team would never happen. There are many six man teams in the state and just because they are small does not mean they take their games any less seriously.
By the way I always thought that Hedley should do away with their Owl moniker and go by the Hedley Horseman. This would make one heck of a helmet decal. Don't you think?
Referees in Texas get paid a percentage of the gate attendance for officiating varsity games. You'd think this would make ref'ing small town games bad, but actually they still pay pretty well since everybody from both towns attended the games as well as farmers and ranchers from the surrounding area. Almost ten years ago I made anywhere from hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars a game, plus mileage. Not bad for three hours work, even today.
Back to Hedley. Normally I traveled alone but this one particular time my wife decided to go. She's never attended a six man game and I told her this one should be a good game as both teams were equally matched.
So I change into my black and white stripes, don my whistle, stuff the ol' yellow hanky in my pocket and trot (me and actual running decided long ago to part ways) out to the field. I spy my wife sitting up in the full to capacity bleachers of the home team. Refs always check out tot he bleachers, first to see how much money they are likely to make, second to scope out the ladies cause refs are just like all horny men of this world, and third to identify the hecklers - they are easy to spot with their bullhorns, and I hate all zebras glare.
The crowd was good, my wife was smiling at me and there wasn't a bullhorn in sight. Things looked good.
As expected the first half was tight, but Hedley was winning and there hadn't been many controversial calls. A good well played game. So again I trot off to the weight room/ referee changing for a bit of halftime refreshment and rest. Six man football is action packed so it tends to wear a fat guy like me out.
So the big six or eight member bands do their thing. It is not unheard of in these towns to see a kid in a football uniform marching in the band as well.So much for his chance to take a breather.
I don't pay much attention to the stand when I come out for the second half, but then sometime in the third quarter I look up and there in the middle of the bleachers is my wife and there is not another living soul within fifteen feet of her.
Now I had jsut ridden in the car with her and unless something had changed she didn't have a bad case of B.O., she isn't the the type to start farting out in public, and she had no communicable disease. So what in the world had happened to make every person in the bleachers suddenly move away and shun her? Here is what she told me after the game.
At halftime one of the Hedly cheerleaders went up in the stands ans asked her if her name was Angie.
My wife said, "No."
"Are you Frank Smith's girlfriend?"
Again Jennifer said, "No."
"Are you from Clarendon?"
Jennifer smiled and shook her head.
At which point the cheerleader said, "Well who are you then?"
"My husband is one of the refs. I came with him to watch the game."
And with that comment my wife parted the crowd like Moses did the Red Sea. And this was during a game in which, one, I was doing a good job, two, there was no big game-changing controversial calls, and three the home team was winning. I think my wife only went to one other varsity game in which I called and she gave up after that. It bothered her way worse than it ever did me to hear everyone complaining about everything from my poor eyesight to my bubble butt.
But four years of ref'ing prepped me for my writing career, because nothing any agent, editor, or reviewer can say will compete with the things I heard on a weekly basis. Miss one call and you'll get a healthy dose of personal and very instantaneous rejection.