Words from Behind the Whistle

I’m blind… I’m deaf… I wanna be a ref!” Hopefully, your fans would never chant this in your field or gym — or maybe you wish they would be that tame. Either way, as an athletic director, one of your biggest jobs is scheduling and working with officials, and occasionally acting as a mediator between them and the fans.

In order to help us understand things from the officials’ point of view, we interviewed referee assignors from three different organizations in two states about their experiences working with Christian schools. We asked all three officials the same seven questions, which you can read at the end of the article. Responses have been summarized by topic.



When asked if the attitude was different at Christian schools as compared to our secular counterparts, they all said yes. However, the answer was not as flattering to Christian schools as we expected.

Two of the officials said that behavior at Christian schools is often worse than public schools, or equal at best.

One said that coaches at Christian schools were often not as knowledgeable and more prone to complaining. The fans feed off of the coach’s attitude, creating a hostile environment.

The one official who said that Christian schools were better-behaved did acknowledge that every game has a few bad apples. He said these bad apples tend to stand out more at Christian school games because of the close quarters and smaller crowds. “At a public school game,” he said, “they’re just another voice in the crowd.”

Working at a school with a tiny, cracker-box gym, I know this to be the case. Be sure to keep your fans in check. Even one fan getting on the officials’ case can harm the overall atmosphere of our athletic events.



All three officials cited late payments as another headache when working with Christian schools.

I, for one, have been guilty of occasionally making late payments. I can give an excuse for each instance, but that doesn’t make it right. We need to pay the full and proper amount on time.

Understand that the officiating organization still has to pay their officials on time, even when they haven’t received payment. This puts them in a tough spot financially.

Despite the high cost of officials nationwide, most organizations do not have a large profit margin. Paying on time is a huge deal.


Dealing with Problems

Overall, the organizations want to be informed when there is a problem with an official. However, this information needs to come from the athletic director, not a coach.

Never let your coaches have open lines of contact with officials and/or assignors. This will only lead to conflict. The officials want to deal with the athletic director.

If you, the athletic director, are also a coach, then you need to be able to deal with the officials civilly and professionally at all times. This includes when you are coaching.


Skill Level of Officials

The skill level of officials can vary from game to game. As one assignor put it,

“The speed of play at many smaller schools is slower, making it a great place for younger/newer officials to learn how to officiate.”

This may be upsetting, but it is the simple truth.

However, all three assignors said that they never pair two inexperienced officials together. There is always a veteran on the crew to take the leadership role.

We were also pleasantly surprised to hear that many of the more experienced officials assigned to Christian schools have called games at higher levels for many years, but enjoy the speed of play at the Christian school level.

Two of the assignors even said that they have veteran officials in their organizations who officiate in Christian schools as a form of ministry. Knowing that small schools don’t always get the best officials, these guys work at Christian schools because “the players work just as hard and deserve quality officiating.”

As one assignor put it, “Officials dream to work at the highest levels, but I believe that it is the job of veterans to train and be an example to newer officials.”

So yes, there is a probably a difference in your officials and those who ref at the big public school down the road. Try to understand the reasoning for those differences.

Appreciate the good officials that you do get.

Most importantly, focus on building your programs to the highest level. If you raise the program, then the quality of officials will improve as well.



All three assignors mentioned that the lack of consistency in Christian school schedules is very difficult to deal with.

While all of them acknowledged the obstacles that Christian school athletic directors faced in scheduling games, they each expressed a need for more definitive schedules. It’s very difficult for them to accommodate cancellations or changes in time and place.

Also, we need to keep the practical needs of the officials in mind. Remember that most refs have careers outside of officiating. If a game has been cancelled or adjusted without notification, then these guys have taken off work early for nothing. They’ll probably still be paid by the association, but they can’t make up for the lost time at their normal job.

Be considerate in your scheduling, but be especially considerate regarding changes.


Game Hosting and Administration

This was, by far, the biggest issue that all three assignors felt needed more improvement in Christian schools.

“It’s the little things … that will get the official to scratch a school faster than just about any reason.”

We could talk all day about this, but the following points about game administration were areas that all assignors felt needed improvement in Christian schools:

  • private room for officials
  • water provided
  • administrative person assigned to checking on them (including keeping fans/coaches at bay)
  • is there a dressing/showering facility with towels
  • predetermined game administrator for dealing with problems

Obviously, some of those are difficult for small schools. However, across the board we all need to focus on providing a better experience for our officials.


In closing, one assignor said it best regarding the relationship between athletic directors and officials:

“It’s all how we work together.”

Very true. Remember that you are the bridge of communication. Work to educate your athletic department and fans about how to deal with officials.

Most importantly, remember that many of the officials we get do not know Christ. If all they know of Christ is the behavior that they see from “Christians” at “Christian schools” then they may never come to know Him.

Don’t be a stumbling block when you and your program can be a great testimony.


Questions Asked

1) Overall, is there a noticeable difference between the attitudes of Christian school fans and coaches and those at public or secular private schools?

2) What is your biggest gripe about working with Christian schools and their athletic directors?

3) What is the best way for an AD at a Christian school to deal with a problem with an official?

4) Is there something that you wish every Christian school would do in regards to treatment of officials?

5) Overall, do you feel your officials prefer to go to Christian schools to officiate?

6) Is there any difference between officials that you send to Christian schools and officials that you send to larger public schools (in regards to skill and experience)?

7) Do you have any suggestions for athletic directors in regards to working with officials in all sports?

What are some things that your school does to ensure a good relationship between your program and the officials?

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of TheAthleticDirectors.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Words from Behind the Whistle

  1. Good article. Believe it or not, I never heard, “I’m blind… I’m deaf… I wanna be a ref!” I can use that. Thanks 😉

  2. This is certainly helpful for me to hear as a coach. Sometimes it is so easy to forget what matters the MOST. Even if an official costs my team the game (and it has happened), in the end, my response to that situation (and how I handle it with my team) will be more important than the L. Great questions!