FLAG ON THE PLAY: As Arkansas high schoolers prepare for football, refs recruit new whistle-blowers

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Refereeing can be a thankless job.

Normally no one discusses the officiating crew at a football game unless they’re complaining, but two high-profile cases involving referees in Texas made big news.

First, a player in Edinburg attacked an official after getting ejected. Then there were two players at John Jay High School that tackled and speared an official.

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While that could cause some to hesitate at putting on the stripes, veteran referee Tyrone Blanks says it is just a matter of focusing on the game.

“People are afraid because of the attitude and behaviors of coaches and fans,” he explained. “We have to block that out.”

Blanks, John Duncan, and Chris Esch have 79 combined years of officiating experience. They can’t wait for the fall to get here.

“I love it. I got started with my dad on his crew,” Esch said.

“I want to give back. I enjoy the kids,” Duncan added.

While this trio is ready to hit the turf this fall, Arkansas still needs more men and women like them.

Arkansas Activities Association associate executive director Don Brodell noted that his organization needs, “every official we can get,” explaining that Arkansas was down about 300 officials in 2020, mainly due to COVID-19.

Brodell believes officiating is a great way to remain a part of the game.

“It takes a competitive person,” he said. “It takes the type of person that wants to do well and takes pride in what they do.”

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Esch, Blanks and Duncan are trying to advise young officials and recruit new ones. They’re holding a free clinic at the Benton Sports Complex July 3, and Esch said he is hoping to find the officials of the future.

“Come sit in in pregame, be on the sidelines during the game and just feel the atmosphere,” he said of wearing the whistle. “There’s no way to explain that or tell anybody about that except to experience it.”

If you are interested in becoming an official for any sports, contact Don Brodell at the Arkansas Activities Association office. If you’d like to attend the free clinic at the Benton Sports Complex, call Chris Esch at 501-317-0080.