With August fast approaching, the players and coaches aren’t the only ones getting geared up for the fall football season — so are the officials.
“The Tri-County Football Officials Association (a.k.a. the Athens Association) is looking for individuals who love the game of football and might be interested in being involved in the game by becoming an official,” commented assigner Craig Phillips recently.
“We are an older association, hoping to get an influx of younger officials, so that the game of high school football can continue as we know it,” he explained. “Also, with the number of games being played, little leagues, middle schools, freshmen and JV (junior varsity), in addition to our varsity games. With less than 40 officials right now, we are terribly short handed.”
A great way to stay around the game, many former players, coaches and fans have donned the striped shirt. Not only are they helping to see the game is played fairly and according to the rules, but they also benefit physically from the exercise and financially by often making more money per hour than they do on their regular jobs.
“I heard one longtime official at a clinic one time say it best when he said, ‘Without officials, it’s just recess,’” related Phillips, who will be in his 25th year of officiating this fall. “Without them (officials), we can’t have games.”
Over the years the Tri-County Association has expanded and serves 11 high school, three middle schools and several little league football association in seven southeastern Tennessee counties — Bradley, Polk, Meigs, McMinn, Rhea, Monroe and Loudon.
“The officials who were our leaders and teachers when I started are no longer with us, men like Shorty Jordan, Larry Sells, Glenn Curtis, J.P. Pendergrass, Bob Deal, Frank Hammons and Tim Richardson,” Phillips stated. “We are looking to pass on what they taught us to younger official, who will continue on for years to come.”
Officials are grouped together in crews of six or seven, including a clock operator. “We put the younger officials with veterans, who can help teach them,” related Phillips. “The opportunity to join a group who loves the game of football and is dedicated to advance the officiating side of it awaits those who are interested.”
“A young official can go as high as he wants in the ranks,” proclaimed Phillips. “While our association has not produced an NFL official, we have had officials from our association advance to officiate in college conferences including the Sun Belt, Southern, South Atlantic and Randell Kizer, one of our own. is currently officiating in the S.E.C.”
Phillips related there are three NFL officials living within 90 miles of Cleveland, two in Chattanooga and one in Knoxville.
The association also sends crews to officiate a TSSAA state playoff games each November and a state championship game every other year.
Anyone interesting in joining the association or getting more information is invited to attend the first local meeting for the fall season in the McMinn County High School library on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. Phillips can also be reached at (423) 715-9471 to answer any questions.