Line judge Jeff Seeman had a career night. Ruling correctly on two impressive and athletic toe-tap receptions, Seeman also ran in to sell his call on Julian Edelman’s crazy catch. To top that off, Seeman was there to call the overtime touchdown as the Patriots won Super Bowl LI. This was Seeman’s second Super Bowl, having previously officiated Super Bowl XLIV, and in order to get to this spot, Seeman had to put in years of work. Seeman began his career as a high school official in Minnesota. Through hard work, he eventually moved up to college and did a stint for NFL Europe before being called up to the NFL in 2002.
Just like for players, only a small fraction of officials will ever make it to the NFL. But for many officials, the real pleasure is in getting closer to the game and helping to foster the future of the sport. That’s why I became a football official in 2010. My local board took me through the rules of the game, and I shadowed several of the older officials, sometimes holding the chains for varsity games.
In the meantime I worked youth games. At the lower levels, there are thousands of kids across the country who play football for the love of it. Pop Warner and American Youth Football organizations need officials of all kinds. At this level, the line between officiating and coaching blurs as the focus is on helping the kids to play within the rules. Unfortunately in many areas, there is a need for more officials to sustain the sport. With a shortage of officials, some organizations are forced to use smaller crews or even cancel games. The sport needs officials to thrive, just as it needs players and coaches.
Those at the lower levels are working hard to hone their skills and want to be better officials. Just like the players, some of these officials may have dreams of moving up, and their talent needs to be fostered as much as that of the players. Most of the time sideline feedback is negative and rarely constructive, but with the right support, young officials can be mentored and learn from their mistakes. Even if you can’t pick up the stripes, you can encourage the growth of officials at all levels by treating them with respect rather than vitriol. We want to develop more officials who can make Super Bowl quality calls like Jeff Seeman.
After a year or so, I began working at the high school level, working junior varsity and freshman games, and then moved up to the varsity level. Some officials will spend their entire career at the high school level and love it. The time commitment is reasonable—my board meets once a week during the season, and I average about 2–3 games each week—and you get to support an experience these kids will keep for their whole life.
Moving up to college is a greater time commitment. More travel over longer distances with more time spent at the game site. The rewards are higher, but so are the challenges; it’s a faster game with more athletic players and coaches who can orchestrate more complex plays. The game pushes officials to step up and be better and to officiate with more precision.
If you love the game of football, you can make a big difference to the kids in your community who also love the game and want to play. The links below will bring you to the high school athletic association for your state or province. There you can get matched up with an officials’ board in your area. Many football boards bring on candidates during the spring, so now is a great time to reach out and jump in. You’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the game of football and what it takes to be out there making split-second decisions. Plus, there’s nothing like standing out on the 50-yard line for Friday night lights.