How do you describe passion?
For me, it is an occasional “rush” I cherish. For several hours after I experience it, I am still buzzing deep inside. It always feels great!
Many times it happens, I get blindsided, and my passion feelings kick to a higher level.
For 54 summer seasons, always blending into each autumn, I know I am going to experience passion many times over.
High school football officiating.
In early July every year now for over half a century, I begin studying my football rules books, and attending various football officiating meetings, both local and state-sponsored. Of course, this unique year, it has been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and, therefore, it has been quite different. Most everything in preparation for the upcoming season was done online. And, most preliminary plans were altered, many of those changes occurring at the last minute.
Once again, I have dual memberships, one in the local North Central Officials’ Association, and the second in the Greater Tulsa Officials’ Association.
The GTOA has always had many high-quality football officials. Over time, several members have advanced. and are now officiating in the NFL.
Current GTOA president, Ethan Rolen, is an excellent officiating leader.. In addition to my peer, he is my good friend.
I have enjoyed Ethan’s personal group presentations, regarding the finer points of high school officiating, over the past few years, whether it be via a telephone conference call, a state-sponsored live or recorded video production, or an in-person discussion inside Tulsa Union Field House, GTOA’s regular meeting location. He is a good speaker, and possesses excellent people skills, in addition to his extensive rule knowledge.
At the last-scheduled GTOA meeting before the proposed 2020 season began, Ethan caused my personal passion switch to be turned on full blast!
He began talking to our small group about his scheduled upcoming Friday Night Lights game for the first week of the season, week zero. The more he spoke from the front of the room, the more I, socially distance-seated among my fellow officials with masks covering our lower faces, could identify with the passion he was projecting to the audience. In only a few minutes, he was able to trap that “magic” feeling I have had since I began officiating in 1967. Passion is definitely in my DNA regarding officiating!
For the “passionate” officials, it takes over our emotions on game day, usually a Friday, hence, the common phrase, “Friday Night Lights.” On those days, I once again focus on my rule books during the late morning and/or early afternoon, covering a different aspect each week of the season. Next, is the packing of my game gear, consisting of my uniform, accessories (whistle, flag, game cards, etc.), shower necessities, and rule books. If the evening weather forecasts wet conditions, I also pack duplicate items, so I may change to dry clothing at halftime. The next phase is the usual hour-plus car ride to the game site, always including in-depth, pre-game rules discussion, with my officiating crew. This dedicated rules conversation really gets my excitement/passion in high gear, as I have always taken pride in absolute rules knowledge and operating mechanics on the playing field. Deep down inside, I have always felt with extensive game preparation, I owe it to the players, coaches, spectators to the game I have always loved.
Now, we are at the game-site dressing room, and my passion continues to mount. We dress, walk outside with the player warm-up going on the field, meet and talk with the coaches, have the coin toss, and prepare for the kickoff.
I blow my whistle and motion to the kicker, and the game is underway. Nothing but sheer passion for me for the next 2-3 game-playing hours, along with lots of running, whistle blowing, and always lots of talking to the players and coaches. Once the contest is over, then begins the “recovery” phase; shower, post-game meal in an area restaurant with the crew and any other friends who go to the game with us or meet us there, then the ride back to Our Town. Much of our post-game time is spent discussing and laughing about the various experiences we shared during that specific Friday Night Lights happening. Each game experience is so special in my memory bank!
Thank you, Ethan, for helping me once again, enjoy our deep passion for this very unusual/very emotional avocation, football officiating.
Robert Breedlove is an Oklahoma State University news-editorial journalism graduate, and a former newspaper (including News Press) reporter. He resides in Stillwater, and has for most of his life.
He has been a contributing writer to various media over the United States for years. He may be reached at email@example.com.