Stars and Stripes

The decision makers behind every game reveal the truth of their craft.

October 19, 2016

When an athlete sees the black and white stripes of a referee uniform, they think of a mediator, and of someone who will determine if they will go home with another victory. The officials themselves, however, see the stripes and they see their pasts as athletes, or all of the athletes yet to come.

Jeff Freeman began officiating football and basketball games back in 1994. He started this position to stay involved with the kids he’s seen walk through his school and to stay involved in the sports he once played.

“I’m a former player and a coach so that’s why I got into officiating,” Freeman said.

Freeman not only officiates sports games, but he is also the principal of an elementary school. This is what kept him officiating games; he gets to be around kids even more than he already is.

“It’s fun. I love running, I love getting up and down the floor with kids and being on the field with kids,” Freeman said. “It’s just a good relationship to have and keeping that going with the athletes.”

Being a referee hasn’t just been all fun and games for Freeman, however. There was one game where he experienced a fight between the players, where even a fan from one of the teams came out and got involved. They were forced to cancel the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

“You have to be very calm; I think that’s the most important thing,” Freeman said.

Inevitably, as in every sport, there will be negative parent reaction to calls the referees make. But, Freeman has learned to block out the crowds and focus on the game.

“One of my favorite sayings is: officials that listen to fans in the stands will soon become fans in the stands,” Freeman said.

Another referee that has been in the profession for 20 years is PJ Tuma. Tuma’s connection to athletics began with her direct involvement as a volleyball and basketball player. She mainly played and enjoyed basketball, unable to continue volleyball after her knee surgery her freshman year. Later on, she became a coach and would be asked to fill in for officials when they were either sick or were otherwise unable to officiate.

“I got started doing it, enjoyed it, and it just kind of stuck, I guess,” Tuma said.

Just like Freeman, her love of the game motivated her to stay involved in officiating and to stay involved in athletics, for that matter.

“I think athletics are a very important part of student life,” Tuma said. “It’s a good way to learn teamwork, dedication and hard work.”

While officiating, her firsthand experiences of basketball and volleyball help her when making calls that may determine the outcome of each game. She not only was an athlete and a coach, but she also watched in the stands as a parent.

“You gotta know the sport, you’ve got to know the rules, and understand all sides of it,” Tuma said. “I think because [of my experience] that I understand all the different angles at which people see the game.”

However, Tuma has not had complete smooth sailing as a referee. In fact, she had a near-death experience while officiating a game.

“One night a light fixture fell from the ceiling and missed me by an inch,” Tuma said.

All in all, Freeman and Tuma enjoy their craft regardless of any dangers that might come with it. 

“You can’t really have sports without having officials; it’s just a way to help students become the best person they can be,” Tuma said.

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