Being a sports official, referee, or umpire is fun. I know what you are thinking. This guy is nuts. How can it be enjoyable when every decision you make upsets someone? Then, there’s the criticism you can face from coaches and fans. Believe me, the rewards of officiating far outweigh these challenges.

In fact, I would argue the personal challenge is the main reason I enjoy it – yes, my wife thinks I’m crazy too. Officiating requires physical fitness, mental toughness and an in-depth knowledge of the game and rules; a combination that pushes me to my limits every, every year. My excitement builds up before every basketball season just like when I was a kid at Christmas. Opening the emails from the assignor relaying how many college games I received and which high school rivalries I’m working is just like opening presents on Christmas morning.

If you grew up playing sports, you’ve experienced the personal satisfaction of playing a great game; it’s why we play. It’s also why I officiate. Sure, I still play from time to time, but it’s not the same. Now, I’m lucky enough to experience that feeling of overwhelming pride when I walk off the court after an intense, competitive contest knowing I officiated a great game.

There are other, more tangible, reasons why I officiate. It’s great exercise. The extra money, while not much, is nice too. Youth games typically pay $15 to $25 per game and high school officials get paid $40 to $50 per contest. Think of it this way: YOU GET PAID TO EXERCISE. Where else are you going to find a deal like that?

I also get to interact with the young men and women, who despite being locked in a battle for supremacy, rarely lose site of the fact they are playing a game. Want to see what real sportsmanship looks like? Get on the field. Our kids know how to treat their opponents and the officials. More times than not they are able to ignore any disrespectful comments from the crowd because of what they’ve learned through sports: working as a team, setting goals, breaking barriers and supporting others. Next time you offer up your voice from the stands, I encourage you think about how your child would respond (or how you hope they would respond). A great rule of thumb to follow is only offer cheers of support, not defeat.

If any of this sounds appealing to you, I have great news. There is a massive shortage of officials at all levels in every sport. Become an official and no matter where you go, you will always have a skill in high demand. I can’t tell you how many intramural games I officiated in college. It helped pay for the late night snacks and luxuries not covered by room and board. One of the first things I did when I moved to Montrose was seek out the local high school basketball officials. They welcomed me with open arms and have provided an immeasurable amount of advice. The type of advice mentors dole out, not the kind you hear from the “experts” in the stands. Many of the people I have connected with through officiating have also become great friends.

If you have little to no experience officiating, the Montrose Rec District is the perfect place to start. Our youth sports leagues offer a low-pressure environment. We’re always on hand to help out and offer friendly advice to those new to the profession. We even train and equip new referees with gear for FREE. Convinced yet? Give me a call at 249-7705. I’m happy to answer any questions and point you in the right direction if you decide to don the stripes.

Justin Mashburn is the Montrose Recreation District’s youth coordinator.

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