Glad to be back on the field
In the fall of 1997 my good friend Joe Martello of Crystal Springs asked me if I wanted to become a football official with him and a group of guys from around Hazlehurst and Crystal Springs. This was on a Tuesday. The officials–many of whom had been in the association for 20 or more years–were meeting that night to sign up and talk about rule changes, and, of course, talk about the old days of playing, coaching and refereeing. It was the only shot to sign up that year.
My dad Ira Coates was a football official when we were growing up. Every Friday night in the fall, from as far back as I can remember, he was on the road with Sonny Barlow, Bob Knight, Dickie Knight, Sammy Wade, Alvin Lack, Jerry Jackson, Lucious Cook and many others to schools in the MPSA–Columbia, Parklane, ACCS, Amite, Brookhaven and so on. Most Friday nights were late nights for daddy. He loved it so much that he was willing to make the sacrifice. And, he had the support of his family.
Seeing daddy in his referee uniform, he seemed like a giant.
Dad’s passion for officiating eventually caught up to me, and I put myself somewhat through college by officiating intramural sports at Mississippi State, eventually working my way up to a supervisory and training position by the time I was a senior. I had the taste and fortitude for it.
A few years went by, however, as I landed my first job out of college. I didn’t think much about being a referee–until that Tuesday.
“Sure!” I said to Joe. “I’ll be there.”
Fast forward 22 seasons, and I’m heading back out again this Friday night. This year is a little more special because I’ll be out there for the first time in 4 years. I sat out the 2015-2017 seasons because my son, Connor, was on the Copiah Academy football team. I went where the Colonels went and covered the games for the Courier and the Meteor. The multitude of posts on Twitter and Instagram during the Colonel football games you’ve seen from the Courier’s accounts the past few years were mine. You will not be seeing them this year. Connor graduated this past May and is now at Co-Lin studying to be an athletic trainer. So, I’ve graduated, too, back to the football field as an official.
And, boy, did I miss it all – the camaraderie of being on a crew, the conversations with my friends to and from the game sites, stepping on to that field in a clean, crisp uniform and shiny shoes, the back-and-forth with the coaches, the hits and the things the players say to each other during the game and all of the other experiences that are anticipated in the days leading up to each Friday’s game.
Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Joe. And thank you to all of the other officials I’ve worked with over the years. It sure is good to be back. Let’s have a great season.