Jim Goss reflects on his 30 years as a football official and hopes to recruit new members to the trade
VANCOUVER — He was in middle school when he saw a teacher of his on the football field.
Instead of watching the game, Jim Goss focused on that teacher, amazed that he knew someone in such an important position.
“I knew right then I’d be an official right here in Vancouver,” Goss said.
Those interested in becoming a football official in Clark County can go to the Evergreen Football Officials Association website at: http://www.efoaonline.org/ The association will have training and recruiting throughout the offseason. While this story focuses on football officiating, many sports are dealing with similar issues. All sports are in need of new officials. For a quick search for officiating in all high school sports, go to: https://woa.arbitersports.com
Those interested in becoming a football official in Clark County can go to the Evergreen Football Officials Association website at: http://www.efoaonline.org/ The association will have training and recruiting throughout the offseason.
While this story focuses on football officiating, many sports are dealing with similar issues. All sports are in need of new officials. For a quick search for officiating in all high school sports, go to: https://woa.arbitersports.com
Some 30 years later, he is still wearing stripes.
“I’ve always had a passion for football. I’m a football person,” said Goss, who now wears the white hat as the referee at high school and youth football games. “Being a game official is not always easy. It’s a lot of hard work. But it’s fun.”
Well, mostly fun.
Goss and the rest of his brothers and sisters in the officiating community in just about every sport are concerned about the future of officiating. Many associations are losing members faster than they can recruit new officials.
Rick Gilbert, the president of the Evergreen Football Officials Association, said five years ago there were 85 members in the association. That number is down to 60.
EFOA members officiate high school varsity, junior varsity, and ninth-grade games, as well as middle school, Clark County Youth Football, and Pop Warner in Southwest Washington.
That makes for a lot of days, a lot of stadiums, and a lot of teams to cover. That makes for a chaotic schedule with fewer officials to choose from than in past years.
There are a few reasons for the numbers loss, Gilbert said, but the biggest is dealing with the constant criticism and lack of sportsmanship, mostly from other adults.
“We do exit polls on the guys who have left,” Gilbert said. “Most of it has been with sportsmanship, having to deal with parents and coaches. The kids have been pretty good. We’ve really had no problems with kids.”
There has been such an emphasis on sportsmanship at the high school level that there are fewer issues at the varsity games, Goss said.
“But at the lower levels, it’s bad,” Goss said, adding the word “ridiculous.”
“A fourth-grade football game and you’re treated like you cost them a Super Bowl.”
Goss and other veteran officials can handle themselves and know how to deal with coaches or parents who go overboard. But what really hurts the future of officiating is when new officials show up willing to learn the trade but quickly get too discouraged to continue.
“People expect us to be college or pro officials,” Goss said. “This is a glorified hobby for some of us. I take a lot of time in my training. I take it seriously. But I’m not a professional official. People expect us to be perfect for the $60 I get.”
That is another issue, Gilbert said. He wishes it wasn’t. Nobody should get into officiating for the money, he said. For EFOA members, it comes to about about $15 an hour for a varsity game when taking into account the pre-game meeting for officials to go over points of emphasis, the meeting with coaches, and then to officiate the game.
The money is a nice bonus at the end of a week, but the verbal abuse directed toward officials has made it so that some officials don’t think it is worth it.
“A lot of people don’t like the aggravation,” Gilbert said. “It’s beginning to really take its toll.”
That is disappointing, Goss said, because being an official is such a rewarding experience.
Officials get to see the players grow in the game, from youth football to the high school level. They are there to protect the players. They also support the players.
While fans see a flag and groan over a call, they do not hear the official telling a player “Good job” after almost every play or offering other words of encouragement. They do not see an official warn a player about an infraction without actually calling a penalty.
Goss said interaction with the players is key to a great relationship. It is also important with his job. Goss is the lead resource officer for Vancouver Public Schools. He is there to enforce the rules, but also to be a positive influence on young people.
See a connection?
On the field, Goss will explain to a player why he called a penalty. Or tell a player he saw the infraction but opted not to call it this time. Just don’t do it again. At a recent Skyview-Olympia game, he saw a uniform violation. He did not call a penalty but did tell the player to fix the problem.
Every play is its own situation.
Gilbert, the president of the association, says that is the perfect way to call a game.
“The more you interact, so they know you’re human, the more they respond and respect you,” Gilbert said.
Goss is the first person to say he is not perfect.
He remembers he had an inadvertent whistle in his first playoff game. That is a helpless feeling for an official, ending what was a positive for one team and a negative for another, forcing a do-over, a replay of downs.
“Making mistakes is where you do the most learning,” Goss said. “As long as you don’t keep making them.”
He remembers making the right call at his first varsity game although the referee that night was not so sure.
A kick returner caught the ball and quickly took a knee but the referee did not see it. Goss did and from far away, he blew the play dead. The referee was livid.
“It was a terrifying moment for me as a new official,” Goss said. “I got chewed out … until the following week.”
It was only then, at a weekly officials meeting, that someone showed the referee the film of the play. Sure enough, the player had taken a knee.
One of the more memorable games Goss has officiated was a state quarterfinal matchup between Union and Ferndale at McKenzie Stadium. Ferndale was attempting to kick a field goal in the final seconds of a tie game The kick was blocked, and Union returned it for a touchdown. He also had to call a penalty on the player who scored the touchdown. The touchdown counted, but there was an unsportsmanlike conduct call, assessed on the kickoff.
At another game, he called a touchdown back on a penalty against his nephew. Goss acknowledged that normally he would not have been assigned a game involving a family member. But his nephew, due to injury, was not supposed to play that night. Goss showed up, and the nephew had received late clearance to play.
Then in the game, he threw a flag on his nephew for holding.
To this day, “I hear about it at every family function,” Goss said.
For the most part, it is not the games he remembers, but the times with his fellow officials. They are teammates, helping each other come up with the right calls, consoling each other if a mistake has been made, and uplifting each other when someone makes a bold, correct decision.
Goss has no idea how much longer he will be on the football field.
He does not want to turn in his whistle while there is a shortage of officials. In fact, he hopes to help train the next generation. He wants former players to step into the role of officiating.
“I honestly enjoy working with brand new people,” Goss said. “There is a lot to learn. But I love them. They’re eager. They read the rule book more than some veterans.”
Those newcomers will eventually become older experts in the field, if they just give it a shot.
Goss has no regrets. From that day he knew he wanted to become an official until now, it has been a memorable career in the sport he loves.
“I just do it for fun,” he said. “It’s so much fun.”