So, OK, life has meaning again and, believe it or not, High School football officials had their first meeting yesterday down in Dickinson at 7 PM.
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
That’s right, it’s almost time to play some football and, the first requirement is that officials get together and get themselves ready for the upcoming season which will be in full swing come July. And, you know what? I’m NOT going to passive about a huge problem which plagues us anymore. This past year, I have repeatedly written about the need for our younger citizens to “give back” in appreciation for what they have already received. And, for you football lovers who are over the age of 18, I am a member of the Dickinson Rough Riders Officials Association. For more information about the NDDROA, go to their website at www.nddroa.org/ or, contact the Herald and ask how to get in touch with me.
Because I have a very simple complaint about a problem which is rapidly destroying the game I love. I am OLD. I’m sorry but, I have to admit that spending 30 minutes on an elliptical 6 days per week and eating like a anorexic rabbit in the off-season is getting harder every year. I have always maintained that each man on this planet has an image in his head of that 19-year-old Adonis that he WAS when, in reality, it just hurts to get up and down that old gridiron now and, our bodies are just…well…let’s face it…NOT Adonis-like anymore. And, that’s the truth. And, we probably never were Adonis but, I digress. We simply need fresh blood to keep local football strong and thriving.
But, “Why me?” you might ask. And, other officials say it best. There is simply a shortage of all sports officials nation-wide. The most common reason given in the past–the fans! But, if you can hit me with a cup of water/beer in the middle of a football field, guys, I want you as a client because, with an arm like that, you should be playing a pro sport and that means you need an agent and, why not a veteran, sports-loving lawyer like me? So, in football, we just don’t have the fan problems of other sports. In fact, with the crowd noise, you can’t even hear the complainers. But, the new mantra I hear from our younger citizens is probably the real reason for the crushing shortage, “What’s in it for me?” Well, I guess, the response to that, very soon, you (as a parent) are going to find out that SACRIFICE is what raises a child. And, adults sacrificed their time so YOU could play sports as a child. So, if you love football, you both get to continue to be involved with the game that shaped your life, be a positive role model to kids, allow them to play too, make life-long friends, stay in shape and strive to be the best. That’s right…strive to make it to Division 1 college football or the NFL and, that means starting in your 20’s NOT your 40’s like I did.
But, seriously, why does it have to be about you? Being a football official actually separates those who can from those who can not. Split second decisions under the kind of pressure that would simply cause most to go catatonic. I have a pantomime when I can actually hear some “fan” giving me a ration about a call on the previous play…I simply remove my whistle and hold it out toward that sideline–never had a taker in almost 15 years. Those who can, do; those who can’t either do or teach–criticize. People have asked me (a lot) how I was prepared to be a trial lawyer with over 250 trials under my belt. The more correct statement is that what keeps me sharp is football officiating. Adapt, improvise, overcome…all while you’re running your behind off–what my father taught me as a boy. And, the sport is unique to North Dakota too, in that, Congress threatened to ban American football back in 1905! And, it was a North Dakota hero who saved his favorite sport from the scrap heap of American history. Look it up. The History Channel did a story on President Teddy Roosevelt who entered into the debate and urged the rules and reforms that created both the modern game and the NCAA. I have officiated other sports too and, I can tell you, officiating football (which actually only has 10 rules) is the most difficult thing I have ever done.
Another benefit is that I bet you think you know everything about football and, so did I back in 1990’s when I showed up at my first association meeting after I read about Missouri’s official shortage in our local newspaper. But, you are WRONG. I had played and coached before becoming an official and I can tell you, without reservation, you don’t know a thing about football if you haven’t officiated. Oh, really, Merriman? Yes really. Answer this question, “by rule how many plays exist in American football?” Ready for it? Two. That’s right…just two plays, by rule, create all this strife on the turf. And, if you don’t know what these two plays are, you need to be an official if you want to claim the all-knowing knowledge of the NFL, NCAA or High School aficionado. The downside is that you will never get to watch a game in peace again because you will see the game in a whole new light. And, your buddies (who are going to argue over a call at some point) will turn to you, “Hey, Merriman. That was holding, right?” “Yep, but it’s not a penalty unless it materially affected the play by giving the ‘holder’, on offense or defense, an unfair advantage.” When is clipping, blocking in the back or blocking below the waist legal? Every official knows. Do you?
refstripes.com, a national resource, says: Get in touch with officials in your area and find an experienced official to be your mentor. And, with the growth of Dunn County, it’s time for a Killdeer Crew (from the surrounding area) to be created and help the NDDROA. Every year, we get a little older and a little thinner in our ranks. A 5-man crew, from the real oil patch showing North Dakota what we’re made of. So, this year, again, I’m not going to beg and plead and wheedle. You want to be the best? Get in touch with me and let’s get to work. There’s plenty of time to get ready before summer camp. I’ll even drive. Give back to these North Dakota kids what you received when some 50+-year-old sacrificed his time so YOU could play. The season runs from August until the end of October and then it’s gone for another 9 months. NFL Referee Walt Coleman says it best, “We are the integrity of the game which brings with it huge responsibility.” If you’ve got the nerve to give it a try, give us a call.