CRYSTAL FALLS, Mich. (WJMN) – At every athletic event, there are those making sure the rules are followed. But even they make mistakes.
“We’re all human and we’re doing the best job that we can,” said Smithson. “As an official, are there times that I miss a call? You’re darn right there are. I never miss it intentionally, but there are times that I miss a call. I try to communicate well with players and coaches that if there is something that we have missed, apologize to them, keep an eye out for it and try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. There is not a coach or in this case, an official who isn’t doing the best job that they can and aren’t fully committed to the job they are doing that night while working with these athletic teams. “
For the past 40 years, Lyle Smithson has dedicated his time to officiating high school sports.
“I initially got into it because of my love of sports,” said Smithson. “I went to college to become a teacher and part of my drive to become a teacher was again my love for sports and working with young people. So, officiating really became a segway. While I was in college I took an officiating class and one of my P.E. requirements and I got hooked. I enjoyed it so I became registered at that time and just continued to do it because I loved being around the game, I loved being around sports, and I loved being around kids.”
While his passion keeps him going on the field, Smithson knows a new generation will need to take over.
“It’s pretty obvious that we a have a group of veteran officials in the Upper Peninsula,” said Smithson. “Many of them have been around as long as I have if not longer. Again, it’s people that have committed themselves for a long period of time giving back to schools and giving back to kids. What we really need is an influx of young people to take the bull by the horns and move on when people like myself just can’t do it anymore.”
While the MHSAA has seen a decrease in officials, the opportunities for student-athletes have increased.
“We’re spread pretty thin,” said Smithson. “I know of guys that are registered in multiple sports. So, right now they’re working volleyball, they’re working football and they’re working junior high events that might take them out of the house and on the court or on the field 3-4 or even 5 days or nights a week.”
The main thing that officials try to enforce on the field ironically is the main reason keeping young people from becoming a referee or umpires.
“One of the big hindrances in recruiting and retaining new young officials is sportsmanship,” said Smithson. “That is something that at the national level is being addressed, the MHSAA has certainly addressed it and high schools are addressing it. So, it’s a point of emphasis, not just this year, but for the last couple of years. I think that has been a bit of a deterrent to young people. At times it can be difficult being an official. There is some people that never want to try it because of that and there are some that try it and figure out that it’s really not for them.”
If you’re interested in being part of the next wave of officials to ensure the next generation to continue to compete, there are a couple of ways to get involved.
“You go to the Michigan High School Athletic Association website, they got drop-down boxes for officials and you can register online,” said Smithson. “You need to watch a video and take a test to become registered. Or if you’re connected with a local school, athletic director, or coaches you can go through an athletic director at a local school, and they can show you the proper path to again get on the website contact the MHSAA, and become a registered official.