Referee hears cheers at his final varsity football game

Rick Gilbert, 72, has spent half his life as a football official

Rick Gilbert threw his last varsity football flag on Thursday night.

He took off his white hat, as well. 

Then his whistle. 

All three were positioned on the 50-yard line at McKenzie Stadium. 

And he walked away.

Rick Gilbert holds up the football, signaling the end of Thursday night’s game at McKenzie Stadium. It was also the end of Gilbert’s varsity football officiating career. He is stepping away from varsity action after 36 seasons. Photo by Paul Valencia
Rick Gilbert holds up the football, signaling the end of Thursday night’s game at McKenzie Stadium. It was also the end of Gilbert’s varsity football officiating career. He is stepping away from varsity action after 36 seasons. Photo by Paul Valencia

Gilbert is retiring (well, kind of) after 36 years of officiating high school football.

“My father taught me years and years ago,” Gilbert said, noting he grew up in Vancouver. “Always give back to the community.”

In that spirit, he became a football official.

“I fell in love with it,” he said.

The 72-year old said he will still work youth football games, but the Mountain View-Evergreen game on Thursday was his final game as a varsity official.

“Just getting too old. My body is starting to break down,” Gilbert said.

The Mountain View Thunder and Evergreen Plainsmen took time to recognize Gilbert and his years of calling games. After the game, several players shook Gilbert’s hand. 

He appreciated the love. After all, officials are not always the most popular people on a football field.

All was good on Thursday, though.

Rick Gilbert gives instructions to players from Mountain View and Evergreen prior to the coin flip Thursday night at McKenzie Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia
Rick Gilbert gives instructions to players from Mountain View and Evergreen prior to the coin flip Thursday night at McKenzie Stadium. Photo by Paul Valencia

Gilbert, wearing the white hat as the referee, asked to be assigned to this Week 9 game, the final regular-season game for the Thunder and Plainsmen. He said he will always remember the great Evergreen and Mountain View games from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“When the stands were full on both sides, the bands. Friday night football, you just can’t beat it,” Gilbert said. “It’s better than any other football.”

Thursday’s game won’t go down as a classic. Mountain View won 38-7 to complete an undefeated Class 3A Greater St. Helens League schedule. The Thunder will learn their Week 10 state preliminary round opponent perhaps by Sunday. Evergreen’s season came to an end.

Gilbert grew up playing at Kiggins Bowl, an athlete at Fort Vancouver High School. 

“The old Fort Vancouver High School,” he emphasized.

Some 35 years or so ago, he took up officiating.

“Every game is a good memory,” Gilbert said. “In officiating, you learn something new in every game. It’s always a learning experience, and you never stop learning. Coaches have always been great. Some get more excited than others, but that’s just the way it is. They’ve all been gentlemen.”

Family and friends came out to watch his final game under the lights. Rick had his brother, Gary, flip the coin in pre-game.

Rick Gilbert left his hat, flag, and whistle on the 50-yard line on Thursday after he officiated a varsity high school football game for the last time. He has been an official for 36 seasons. Photo by Paul Valencia
Rick Gilbert left his hat, flag, and whistle on the 50-yard line on Thursday after he officiated a varsity high school football game for the last time. He has been an official for 36 seasons. Photo by Paul Valencia

But again, Gilbert is not done entirely. He plans to work the youth games. Those contests are a little slower.

“They need the officials, and I enjoy it,” Gilbert said. “It’s fun for me. It’s my only hobby.”

With his decision to leave the varsity ranks, that is one fewer professional in a profession that is losing more officials than it is gaining. 

“I just wish we’d get more people involved in officiating at all levels,” Gilbert said. “Not just football, but all sports.”

He will continue helping to recruit new officials. He remains a board of director for the Evergreen Football Officials Association. 

Nope, he’s not done.

And for young officials, or for those who wish to become officials, Gilbert has some advice:

“Just enjoy it. Do it for the fun of it. It’s just a lot of fun,” Gilbert said. “Like I said, the Friday night stuff, when you get there, nothing beats it at all. The crowds. The people. You get to meet some really great guys.”

And 36 seasons later, coaches and fans even cheer for the ref.

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Kretz Douglas
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Kretz Douglas
29 days ago

Thanks, Paul, for profiling a guy that has given so much of himself for local high school and youth football!

From the wing
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From the wing
29 days ago

Say it ain’t so, Rick! It won’t be the same without you on Friday night, thanks for all you have done! – Meis

Doug Miller
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Doug Miller
26 days ago

One of the greatest human beings ever and has served us all well in his 36 years. Thank you old friend.

B Boyer
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B Boyer
26 days ago

This man is a football icon in Clark Co! Well done!

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