Sadder than I expected to be.
No one is sick. Nor has a loved one died. I still have a job and a home and people who love me. But, now, something is missing.
Seems like a little thing, especially when you consider that I’m talking about sports officiating. I’ve been blowing whistles and throwing flags for four decades, an avocation that initially was intended to be temporary.
I only became an amateur sports official to try to convince a forward-thinking TV news director to give me a shot as a sportscaster, so I took five years and learned the games – football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball – by reading rule books. I’ve called youth sports, men’s and women’s leagues, high school games, and a few exhibitions, the most memorable a contest between the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds and the San Francisco Giants, a TV game where I worked the plate and got to kibbitz with skipper Dusty Baker.
That I did eventually land a TV sportscasting job – and four more after that – still surprises me sometimes. But even more shocking is that I never quit officiating.
Why? I’m not sure I can answer that. After all, we officials spend a lot of time being screamed at and second-guessing ourselves. We have to take exams and attend clinics and scrimmages and rules meetings and camps, none of which we get paid for. We are supposed to be right 100% of the time. (The job is so demanding that 80% of high school officials quit before their third year on the job.) On more than one occasion, I’ve been escorted to my car by police officers, wary of angry coaches and fans.
And still, when I walked on the field last night for what was my final high school football game, I felt a loss I never expected. A degenerative spine and two bad kness have made continued on-field work problematic and dangerous. While I’ve never been fast – as anyone who’s ever worked with me can attest – I am simply unable to get out of the way. In an effort to avoid any further MRIs and X-rays, and surgeries, I have hung up my whistle.
What will I miss? The pre-game locker-room rituals where my crew mates and I polish our shoes and squabble over tricky plays. The sometimes surprised expressions when I introduce myself to coaches who still find it odd that a woman wears the white hat. The National Anthem, eyes on the flag, cap over my heart. The smokey smell of sizzling meat served up by booster clubs. The players who accidentally call me sir and blush in embarrassment. The ceremony of the coin toss. Marching bands and Arizona sunsets.
But mostly, I will miss the camaraderie. Crew members become a second family, people who share my peculiar predilection for wearing stripes, an oddity few others understand.
So, I’m sad, because I will miss them most of all.
Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group
Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook
As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.