Writer’s Roost

Volunteer football officiating challenged my fairness

Willis Webb

Willis Webb

Once — JUST once — I was “volunteered” to officiate a junior high school football game. Thank the good Lord I was spared that indignity ever again, but I couldn’t refuse that time.

The head coach of those Teague Junior High Lions was one Jack Meredith, my family’s next-door neighbor and absolutely one of the best guys I’ve ever known. Jack went to Stanford University where he was a three-year starter at end. He married a Teague girl (Norita Keils) and wound up coaching there in both the high school and the junior high. There are much larger staffs these days and most schools, even those Teague’s size, have somewhat separate coaching staffs.

I was 20 years old and had run out of money for college, so I’d laid out a year to be the $45-aweek news editor of The Teague Chronicle (yeah, Steve, $45). Of course, as the only “hard news” and “sports news” person (a woman handled “society” news, as it was once called, plus bookkeeping), I covered everything I could get to, and I made the “mistake” once of going to cover a junior high football game.

Somehow, there were no officials for the game. I don’t recall if some had been hired and didn’t show up or if schools in those days used local volunteers for those junior high/middle school contests. I remember at this particular game, the complete officiating crew was local volunteers. Of course, I’d played high school football and went off to college at Sam Houston State for a couple of years where I studied journalism and landed the cushy part time job (full time hours) as sports publicity director. However, I depleted my bank account and laid out of school to replenish it.

College journalism had taught me that successful newspapers must cover as much of the news as is humanly possible. And, overtime…well, we never heard of nor dreamed that we could be paid for anything beyond 40 hours. So, covering junior high sports as well as high school, plus Rotary Club meetings, city council, car wrecks…everything…was the order of the day.

At country newspapers, we thought “the beat” either applied to big city daily newspapers, what the police walk/drive or what the school principal did to your posterior if you sassed a teacher. Otherwise, we covered everything we could get to, or that someone would tell us about or, in many cases, write about (often in an almost unreadable scribbling). It was a massive transfusion into our veins of printer’s ink, as the legend goes.

Being a true believer in the Great News Way (cover it all), I was everywhere I could be each week, and I found that I loved it more than I could possibly ever love being the next Grantland Rice, the greatest sports writer of all time.

So, there I was at Lion Stadium one Thursday afternoon covering the junior high football game. And, as stated, was asked to officiate the game. You don’t say no to such “civic” duty in Teague.

I was in my jeans and a sports shirt and tennis (“tenny”) shoes and that was a good enough uniform, along with a whistle and a white “rag” to be used as the “penalty flag.”

The memorable incident in the game caused me to recall the one player’s name I can remember, because he was the one who drew the penalty flag — Tyrus (Ty) Petty. He was a great kid and a rangy end on the junior high team.

He kept lining up off sides. Being a “homer,” I kept trying to ignore it. Finally, though, between plays, I went to Jack Meredith and said, “Coach, Ty’s lining up off sides EVERY time.”

Jack looked at me and cocked his head as he said, “Well, dang it (really what he said), call it.”

So, sure enough, on the next play, there was Ty clearly off sides, so I tossed my white rag flag and painfully penalized my Teague Junior Lions. I found the press box a great retreat from such “draft duty,” in the future and in the vast majority of sports contests I covered in the next 50-plus years. Much more enjoyable, too.

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper publisher of more than 55 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.

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