Editor’s Note: David Friend is a current Ohio high school wrestling official serving more than 20 years in officiating and has had 14 years as an assistant wrestling coach in the Piqua School District. Friend graduated from Miami East High School and is one of the founding members of that wrestling team. Friend is currently the President of the SOWOA, Southwest Ohio Wrestling Officials Association, past vice-president of the MRWOA, Mad River Wrestling Association and a member of the OWOA, Ohio Wrestling Officials Association. He is the Chief of Police of Minster and has over four decades in law enforcement.
My Dad always led me to believe that those who work hard will have good things happen. I have always tried my best to follow this philosophy not only in my profession, but also in my passion for officiating wrestling. I know many officials have this near obsessive attitude of being out on the mat in a highly stressful environment to make that correct call.
Wrestling is one of the toughest sports to officiate. It takes predicting where the action is going so you can get there first in order to make that tough call. Just as with a wrestler who possesses that strength, quickness and endurance to succeed, so should the official who has to keep up not only in that match, but in all of those bouts that follow.
Most officials have had some prior connection with wrestling either as a player or a coach. They are already familiar with what the sport demands and have some idea of how to get to the next level. So, let’s talk about what it takes to reach that pinnacle of being a state referee and those sacrifices made.
Each official has a number that is assigned by the OHSAA and I’m pretty proud that mine begins with a 107, what does that mean?
When fellow official notices my number, they usually express their amazement and makes the comment, you’ve been an official for a very long time. The years that are committed into the sport is only one aspect of what it takes to be considered and entered into a state official’s pool.
Foremost, the official needs to be a walking rule book.
His knowledge of the rules has to exceed that of any coach. How on earth, with all those ever changing moves that wrestling has, would anyone be proficient enough to make a correct call in a nanosecond? Years ago, a fellow official stated that a referee is never perfect, but always fair. Director of Development and state rules interrupter Jim Vreeland, always puts at the end of a point of emphasis bulletin from the Ohio Wrestling Officials Association a reminder:
Be Professional * Polite * Prompt * Patient * Direct * Decisive
Officials are required by the OHSAA to attend a clinic and four meetings prior to or during the wrestling season. These meetings go over rule changes and the different situations which come up that would include illegal moves to watch out for that were invented by a player to increase his or her odds of winning. Are the four meetings enough for this complex sport? I can’t express this enough, not in the least! Located throughout Ohio there are many wrestling official associations and each have eight or more meetings referees may attend. An official that has any kind of aspirations of being a state referee should get it in his or her head that they better not only attend all of their own association meetings but go to additional meetings that other associations have on a different weekday. This is important as in each meeting officials go over specific topics in detail such as the always controversial stalling call. For example, this year I have attended the state clinic and 16 association meetings, which comes out to traveling over 1600 miles just to acquire new information that could be out there.
Dick Loewenstine, Vice President of the OWOA and state rules interrupter always says that the difference between a great official and a good official is the amount of time he or she spends on the mat and the number or meetings they attend. Believe me, State Rules Interpreters do notice attendance when it comes time to assigning worthy individuals. Meeting attendance is recorded on your profile on the myOHSAA, a secured website and is able to be viewed by the assigners.
By the OHSAA standards, an official has to have worked six varsity events throughout the year to qualify to do post season tournaments. Is this enough? Again, in my opinion not in the least. Most state officials perform 20 to 30 events prior to post season. Mat time is critical to sharpen the mechanics of signaling and verbally expressing to the wrestlers and coaches in order to control each match efficiently. It makes sense that the more mat time the official has the more effective he or she becomes. This is crucial especially when working the higher varsity level tournaments, which are often times are hours away.
Dan Sayers, who is not only a state referee, but also received the opportunity to officiate the Big Ten Championships this year, was asked his thoughts on what it takes to become a state official.
“Officiating isn’t something that happens suddenly when you step out onto the mat, or when you blow your whistle and the crowds roar,” Sayers said. “Officiating is something that takes hard work, years of preparation, physical and mental toughness to do all matches to the best of your ability.”
During the state meet wrestling officials are met off the mat by the state rules interpreters including Ray Antony, he approaches with kind words and at times asks them about a particular situation during the match, which could have been handled somewhat differently all in an effort to make it right.
All 30 referees receive evaluations by three state observers during the three-day tournament. The officials read these and take these comments not as criticism, but areas to get better in that always continuing effort to be a great official.
I can’t even express within myself how rewarding it is to be assigned the Ohio State Championships after all the hard work and time you’ve put in for a chance to be noticed as one of the best among 30 officials who get the call each year. There are many officials that are waiting to get a chance through hard work and dedication to prove their skills and officiate the greatest sport on earth’s top tier.
To all those officials who are on the bubble, the best advice I can give is to keep making those necessary sacrifices to enable you to get better.
Always remember, that those who work hard will have good things happen, that’s what a very wise man told me long ago.