They do it to stay in shape or just be connected to the sports they love. Some need the money, while others are out there to enjoy the camaraderie. As much as they are viewed as enforcers of rules, they see themselves as teachers, and growers, of the games.
They are referees and, just as much as athletes, coaches and spectators, they have been robbed of their athletic endeavors amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It's a time when everybody needs something to look forward to right now,” said Fort Wayne's Bill Shaw, a soccer referee planning on a July return to the pitch. “It's definitely on my calendar, and I really, really want to see those kids back out there.”
Shaw, 57, a referee for about 20 years, has been robbed of middle school games this spring. He's been longing for the atmosphere of Kreager Park, where he can grab a bite from a food truck, rake in the sights and sounds of kids passionate about soccer, and help instill good habits into young players.
“The kids haven't gotten as energetic about objecting to calls. You help mold them for when they get to high school,” Shaw said. “That's one of the good things: If you've done their games in middle school, then they kind of get to know you. So we missed that time with the seventh and eighth graders to kind of be like, 'Hey, don't stand at the ball if it's a foul because next time I'm going to give you the yellow card.' Whereas in high school, I'm just going to give a card because there are certain things I don't mess with.”
Soccer is a physical and mental release for Shaw. But he's more concerned with the impact stay-at-home orders had on young players.
“It's not just about me not being able to teach them,” Shaw said. “(It's) the friendships, the competition, the training. Gosh, we have an unhealthy population. We have an obesity issue with young people, with kids. I know that's a fact; I've seen it. This is a chance to get them away from their video-game systems and their devices, get them out breathing fresh air and doing good stuff.”
Shaw isn't bemoaning the lost income, though he would have gotten about $25 per spring game and could rake in more than $500 a week if there's a high school season.
“You've heard the 80-20 theory, probably,” Shaw said, “where if somebody wants to officiate, you can make enough money to buy Christmas presents and do a vacation or get your car fixed. ... For the younger guys, (the money is) more important. We would always tell them, 'Hey, when you go to college, this is a great job for you. You can make some money and not have to work at McDonald's. And you can schedule it on your own.'”
From hockey to golf to cross country, every sport has officials, including scorers, judges and timers. Some are volunteers, many are not.
“Most people are in it for the money. I'm not,” said Fort Wayne's Shane Salisbury, 54, who referees basketball and football. “I love to see the competition on the court and just to see these kids grow up and become professionals, move on to college, things like that. I'm in it for the love of the game, not for the love of the money.”
While the IHSAA basketball tournament was halted before completion in March, Salisbury had already finished his high school games. But he missed out on AAU play; he would have called five games a day on weekends for about $25 per game.
“It's just the camaraderie with your fellow officials, being out on the court and getting some exercise, and just basically it's a stress reliever for me,” said Salisbury, a referee for about 18 years. “I get out there and can do my thing. It's relaxing for me. I don't get too stressed about too much stuff on the court. I give coaches a long leeway before they hang themselves. I try to talk a coach down, rather than give them a technical.”
Salisbury could have basketball games to referee in July, but he's uneasy about the safety of it amid COVID-19.
“If you're calling a game and blowing your whistle quite a bit, you're touching that whistle and putting it in your mouth and taking it out of your mouth,” Salisbury said. “Then you're touching the basketball, which every person in the gym has touched that basketball, basically, one time or another. What's our safety protocol going to be? I know things are going to have to change, but I don't even know how they're going to go about it in basketball because there's so much hands on.”
Wiping down the ball safely, or swapping out equipment frequently, may be viable at the highest levels where there's more money and equipment, Salisbury said, but how will it be implemented, and monitored, at youth levels?
Shaw had similar concerns, wondering if soccer referees will have to be stricter to make it more of a non-contact sport. Some changes he thinks are inevitable, such as eliminating communal water containers and handshake lines. But there's much else to consider, such as players spitting on the field, headers and goalkeepers handling the ball. Shaw wondered if shelving throw-ins, in favor of kick-ins, might be the way to go.
“It's like one part of me says, 'Ah, we shouldn't play yet.' But the other part of me says, 'Man, I want to see those kids smiling and having fun.' They've been locked up, cooped up, and (soccer) gives them something to look forward to,” Shaw said, adding: “I want what's best for the players. If we lose one kid (to COVID-19), I'm going to be crushed.”