Referees keep the peace on courts, fields

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

7/23/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Spectators at Maxwell's intramural games often root for one of two teams battling on the field or court, but little do they notice a third team, much smaller, until they disagree with one of its calls. They are the referees.

A team all its own, 18 referees at Maxwell continue to give back to the intramural program after their days as athletes have ended.

They simply have a love for the game, according to Tech. Sgt. James Wade, instructor at Gunter's NCO Academy, who has been officiating intramural games for six years.

"I know for me playing for 18 years when I was younger, I played intramurals, I played every sport there was. Now I can't keep up with the kids in basketball or flag football, but I can still give back to the intramural program," Wade said. "It's a way to help out the intramural program, stay a part of the intramural program and give back to the intramural program."

Some spectators and even players maintain a negative outlook on officials, but Wade and other fellow referees do not view themselves as the enemy. They have a duty to maintain order and fairness during intramural and championship games for soccer, basketball, slow-pitch softball, volleyball and flag football.

"I'm not partial to any team. Whether I'm behind the plate or on the floor or on the field with the whistle, I'm going to call it straight down the line," Wade said. "We also have to make sure we are versed in confrontation management and skills to be able to get people to calm down [rather] than letting issues escalate."

Mostly retired, dependent, active-duty or civil service employees, every intramural referee is affiliated with Maxwell and makes a choice to stay involved in intramurals, said Melanie Gess, recreation specialist at the Maxwell Fitness and Sports Center.

"A lot of these guys don't have to do intramurals," Gess said. "I have several college officials in several different sports who do not necessarily have to come out here and officiate these intramural games. They do it because they enjoy doing it."

That is the reason Robby England began officiating basketball, softball and flag football after retiring from the Air Force, and he has been doing so for 20 years. It definitely is not for the money, he said.

"You're not going to get rich off of it [officiating] unless you're at a high level professionally," England said. "For intramurals, you do it because you enjoy doing it. I was pretty competitive when I played in sports, but when I couldn't compete at that level anymore, I still wanted to stay involved in sports, so I started officiating."

Staying active and being a role model for younger Airmen is why Master Sgt. Thomas Merrett, flight chief of education services, continues to officiate basketball and volleyball games after 15 years despite the abuse that comes with the position.

"It's a lot of verbal abuse," Merrett said. "One of the perceptions people always have is that we're cheating, but the only people who care about intramural sports are the teams playing it. We have no bias towards any team or anything like that."

Merrett has earned the respect of younger Airmen through his consistency, professionalism and fairness on the field, which he has learned from 23 years in the Air Force. He also referees high school and college games in the local community.

"All I'm doing is translating the things that I have learned in the Air Force and carrying it over to officiating, and it really has helped," Merrett said. "We can also train other officials and use our experience that we've learned through the years and give back to officials who are just learning."

Softball and golf intramurals held their championships games July 9 and 10, respectively. Basketball games will begin in August.