10 Steps to Creating and Administrating
an Official's Association
By Jennifer Rardin
Thirty-three years of combined officiating experience have given Ken Woodworth and Mark DiMarzio huge respect for sports and the officials who keep them honest. They've done it all, from baseball to football, junior league contests to college rivalries. And they've learned from some of the best in the business. Therefore, when the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) began to push officials to join up, Woodworth and DiMarzio decided to go a step further and give their colleagues something to join. Created in 1995, the Lincoln Trail Football Officials Association (LTFOA) now boasts 33 members working a full schedule of games. So how did they do it? How did they move from four guys playing around with an idea to four varsity crews? How did they triple the number of officials in their area and pack their calendars with underclass and junior league games? Like anything worth building, it started with a solid foundation.
"You've got to have some people who are willing to put in some time," stresses Woodworth. As president of the LTFOA, he speaks from experience. A core group of three people one to head things up, one to keep track of business details and one to schedule games can run an association the size of the LTFOA. But you also need people who can fill the less-demanding administrative positions. Start with your own crew or people you regularly officiate with. Once the core group dedicates itself to the organization, it can easily pull in more members with a recruiting blitz. You need enough people to cover the games you expect to schedule for your upcoming season. So, start talking to high school seniors and college students. Spread the word that you're recruiting, and interested people will often come to you. Woodworth and DiMarzio also approached friends and co-workers, ran newspaper ads and recruited officials from other sports.
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"Each state has its own mechanism for organizing officials," says Bruce Howard of the National Federation of State High School Associations. The best way to find out how to join your state's high school association is to write and ask. Your association will also want to register with your state's Department of Revenue as a non-profit corporation, with education as your main goal. Write a letter detailing your intentions and the state will walk you through the process. Woodworth believes it's well worth the effort. "If you register with the state as a not for profit (corporation), you have less liability exposure if someone in your association is sued," he explains. You'll also be able to avoid taxation on dues and clinic charges.
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Write bylaws for the association to give it shape and direction. The bylaws should include articles describing the name, purpose and officers of the association. It's a good idea to appoint a Board of Directors to set dues, schedule meeting dates and provide disciplinary review. Your bylaws might also include a general meeting schedule and spell out what percentage of meeting attendance will be required. Be lenient here. People have conflicts throughout the season. Ideally, members will attend every meeting, but you should excuse absences if there are legitimate reasons for being gone. Make sure you state who keeps financial records and who reviews them. Woodworth provides a financial report at every LTFOA meeting. The officers aren't paid, of course, but the association still needs money for their logo, web-site setup, paper, postage and photocopying charges. The LTFOA sponsors a cookout for its members at the beginning of each season. The $15 each member pays in annual dues covers those expenses. The association finances its clinic with a $10 sign-up fee.
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Here's where your organization's stated purpose comes into play. The LTFOA's purpose includes five components: "to promote football officiating, to further knowledge and understanding of football officiating rules and mechanics, to recruit and assist in developing of novice referees, to promote referee advancement and to provide scheduling assistance for referee crews and athletic directors." Your purposes may vary slightly according to your state's guidelines and your group's priorities. But one of the most important things you can do is recruit. Your state will support that because they always need more officials. According to Dave Gannaway, Assistant Executive Director of the IHSA, Illinois alone has lost nearly 5,000 officials since the early '80s. At the same time, new sports and new levels of existing sports eased. The association benefits from new blood, too. Gain enough members, and suddenly you're strong enough to tell an uncooperative school you won't schedule officials for their sports unless they protect your members from aggressive fans and abusive coaches. The LTFOA actually stopped scheduling a school because its administrators refused to address serious problems that kept arising at football games. According to members who've worked there independently, attitudes towards officials have changed drastically as a result.
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Six or seven months before your season begins, write every athletic director within an hour's drive of your center of operations. Proudly introduce your association, mention your purpose, stress your experience, offer a telephone number and tell them they can fill their varsity schedules with one call. According to DiMarzio, athletic directors love the convenience. Ask schools within a 30-mile radius for their underclass schedules as well. In exchange, offer them a guarantee. Here is what DiMarzio told them: "We will provide a four-man crew with varsity experience. Not every one of them will be a varsity official, but there's going to be at least one varsity official on the crew." He added a promise that the crew would arrive early and work as hard as if it were a playoff game. By the third year, letters were no longer necessary. The calls came to them.
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As the association's only clinician, Mark DiMarzio understands better than most the importance of training. "You put a kid that has never been on a basketball floor or a football field into a heated ballgame, and it could cause a problem in the game," he notes, "so the clinic is a great idea." The Lincoln Trail (Ill.) Football Officials Association's (LTFOA) annual clinic takes place around a sophomore jamboree. It starts early so the students complete class work before the games begin.
"We try to get our officials to go every year," says Ken Woodworth. "And really, that's one of the biggest reasons that we have our association, is to try to keep people trained, keep them current, keep them thinking about the rules." Even when the season is in full swing, LTFOA members continue training. Monthly association meetings include quizzes and discussions; unusual situations members dealt with or errors they made are often the subjects of both. Crews are also encouraged to run pregame meetings, during which each member reviews his responsibilities. Then there are the Saturday morning telephone calls. Woodworth and DiMarzio get plenty of those. "That's really the fun part of the job," Woodworth muses. "When people have questions, and figuring out if they did something right or wrong, that really is probably the most gratifying part of having an association."
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Sure, rookies can learn plenty officiating an intense varsity match their first time out the main lesson being how much they have to learn. The LTFOA uses a different approach. "We bring in the new guys, usually in June or July," DiMarzio says for his football group. "We're going over the rulebook with them and then, when we have the clinic, they're on the field probably for the first time ... and we are actually standing behind them at their position." Talk about moral support. But it does give the new guy much needed confidence.
"We work hard with new officials to get them in with a crew of more experienced people when they first start officiating," Woodworth adds. "They're not just going to be out there facing the wolves ... we're going to be there to help them out." That practice attracts officials who wouldnÕt dream of being licensed otherwise. You'll find it's vital to the health of your association.
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"Thank goodness for computers," DiMarzio laughs. "The whole association is on my computer, from the rosters, to every underclass game we do, to the varsity schedules." As the scheduling secretary, it's DiMarzio's job to make sure crews are available to cover the 71 ballgames he's asked to schedule. The importance of that position can't be understated. You need somebody who can stay on top of a schedule that's as fluid as oil and just as slippery. Games cancel due to small rosters made smaller by ineligible players. The same games might reschedule the following week. People are even less predictable. Funerals, business trips, illnesses all knock officials out of games they originally expected to work. While it's the crew leader's job to find a replacement, the scheduling secretary may lend a hand. If you can't find an organizational wizard like DiMarzio to fill the position, do the next best thing. Give the job to the person with the fastest computer.
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Manicured lawns and well tended gardens turn heads. People admire the work that went into the task almost as much as the beauty resulting from it. In the same way, athletic directors and coaches make important inferences based on appearance. Simply showing up for the game, for instance, can gain an athletic director's loyalty. But if you want that loyalty to last, make the extra effort. Arrive early. Wear matching shirts with the association logo. Shave the beard, trim the mustache, cut the hair to just below your ears; ladies with long hair, pull it back neatly. Simple stuff really, and yet it does make a difference. DiMarzio, at least, is convinced: "Without our reputation of being to the game on time, looking professional, acting professional, knowing the rules and the mechanics of the game, we wouldn't get those phone calls."
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Make it a goal for every official in your association to work a playoff game, or the equivalent, in the sport you represent. State mandates vary, of course. In Illinois, for example, football officials have to work two years before they are eligible for promotion. They must be critiqued by a combination of coaches and officials and score high on an additional test. Only then are they eligible to work the playoffs.
Some people are content to work junior league and underclass games. So be it. In all other cases, let your association's purpose be your guide. When your new people gain the experience they need to advance, nudge them in that direction. It's the best way to make sure members of the association gets the most from their officiating experience.
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Reprinted from the December 1999 and January 2000 LOAN newsletter NewsNet