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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Mark Jones, the Alabama High School Athletic Association Director of Officials, is a former city councilman in Jacksonville, Ala. His political career began for the same reason as his time as a high school sports official.
“If you think you can do better and make a difference, jump in there and make it better instead of continuing to complain about it,” he said. “That’s one problem I see in our society. We love to complain, but we don’t want to solve the problem.”
Jones, a veteran of more than 35 years as a football, baseball, softball and basketball official, is working with associations across the state to encourage young people to pick up a whistle and get involved – or stay involved – with sports as an official. It’s a tough job with relatively small monetary rewards, but one that can lead to advancement to college or professional positions. At the high school level, a sports official is able to influence young people by teaching sportsmanship and fair play.
“The selling point to getting into officiating is that you really need to have a sense of wanting to give back to sports,” said Ron Baynes of Mountain Brook, who in his 28-year National Football League career officiated in two Super Bowls and retired as the NFL’s Supervisor of Officials. “It’s OK to view it as an opportunity to make a little extra income, but to really make it work, you need to feel a need to get back involved.
“We call officiating a fraternity,” said the longtime Alabama high school coach and administrator. “It’s a group of guys who can relate to each other. Some of the closest friends I have are guys I officiated with. It’s like staying on a team in sports.
“Honestly, it’s not for everybody. My three sons are in big-time officiating (two in the NFL, one in college) and I’ve had others in my family who have tried it. My son-in-law, who I love dearly, tried it and he didn’t like it. When I asked him why, he said, ‘I made a mistake out there.’ I told him we all make mistakes, then he said, ‘I like for people to like me too much to do this.’”
Facing criticism is a difficult part of the job, Jones said. Social media has made it even tougher as hecklers can now take criticism to larger audiences as anonymous trolls.
“The role of the contest official is essential for high school sports to teach the lessons we know it can teach,” said Steve Savarese, Executive Director of the AHSAA. “They work tirelessly to become the best contest officials they can be. We are fortunate in Alabama to have so many who sacrifice so much to become officials. They come from all walks of life. We are thankful for the leadership provided by Mr. Jones and Greg Brewer before him and for our veteran officials who are proving to be such outstanding mentors.
“However, we as a public must do our part and learn to treat them with the respect they deserve. If we don’t, then we will be facing a severe shortage of officials in the future.”
Jones said most officials want to be in the big games, but they must start at the grassroots level.
“A problem we have is that everybody has to start out on the junior high level,” Jones said, “where the play is just not that good. The coaches who are also just starting out sometimes think they are NBA-ready. Lots of them think it’s coaching to yell at the officials. Everybody thinks they should be perfect, so mom and dad start yelling and grandpa starts yelling at the officials. These officials don’t want to be berated all the time, so before they can become a good official, they get out.”
Brewer, who in 2016 retired as the AHSAA’s Director of Officials after three decades, developed a sports officiating class for high schools that was approved as part of the curriculum by the Alabama Department of Education. Those classes are now offered at more than 35 high schools across the state, Jones said.
“The AHSAA is committed to addressing the issue of the declining number of officials,” he said. “It is a nationwide problem and Alabama hasn’t experienced the problem as severely as some other states. Retention of officials becomes an issue as young officials drop out after two to three years and the major factor in retention is verbal abuse. With the expanding use of technology and social media, the expectations of officials have become unrealistic. Officiating is the one profession that individuals are expected to start as perfect and then get better.”
Patsy Burke has been a volleyball official for 20 years, starting only after falling in love with the sport while acting as statistician for her daughter’s teams. “I had some people who thought that maybe I should give it a try,” she said. “I had also done softball scorekeeping and started calling softball, so I thought I’d give it a try. When I decided to do it, I found the first officiating camp that the AHSAA offered and I went. It helped me know what an official is supposed to do. I listened to officials who I had watched officiate and I said that’s what I want to be. I wanted to be the best.”
Burke went all-in, attending camps, talking to officials and reading everything about the game from an official’s point of view. “I listened to those people who had been in it a long time,” she said. “I picked their brain. I have been very fortunate to call volleyball in the Southeastern Conference, in the Ohio Valley Conference and things like that, but my true love has always been high school ball.”
Criticism – often totally unfounded – is what drives young people away from wearing the officials’ stripes, Burke agreed. “The fans have become just irate,” Burke said. “Some parents think they know the game because their kids play, but they don’t know the rules. Volleyball is a mental game for officials. In a three-of-five match, we probably have to make a judgment call on over 500 touches of the ball. I don’t know of any other sport that has to make that quantity of judgment calls.”
Allen Gilbert is a professor of sports management at Jacksonville State University who called college basketball for 17 years as well as high school basketball and football. He teaches football and basketball officiating classes and said he encourages his students to get involved. “The good part of being an official is the relationships you build,” he said. “You actually have a good relationship with the coaches, too, but sometimes it’s hard to see that.
“It seems the only time kids see officials is when something bad happens – breaking up a fight or coaches or spectators yelling at them. Otherwise, officials are invisible. When they see the bad things, they think, ‘I don’t want to put up with that.’”
Burke said she would like to see parents get more connected to the sportsmanship component of high school sports in the same way their children are. “We can do something about sportsmanship for coaches and players,” the longtime official said, “but we can’t say that to parents. Some club associations require the parents to sign a form that says they will show good sportsmanship. They are required to sign. I know that doesn’t stifle every parent from showing poor sportsmanship, but it might make them think about how they are acting.”
Baynes, an Alabama Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played football, basketball and baseball at Auburn University, also touted the health benefits of being an official. “I left Auburn weighing 225 pounds,” he said. “I got into coaching and I worked out some with the kids, but I got up to 245 pounds. The night I worked my first game as an official, I was probably not as fit as I should have been. I was not headed down a healthy path. As an official, you’re motivated to work out because you know you put yourself in the public eye. When you get to higher levels, you better be fit or you’ll get run over and get killed! I’m 74 years old now and I weigh less than I did when I played at Auburn.”
Those interested in pursuing officiating can start by visiting ahsaa.com/Officials/Officials-Home or highschoolofficials.com.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association, founded in 1921, is a private agency organized by its member schools to control and promote their athletic programs. The purpose of the AHSAA is to regulate, coordinate and promote the interscholastic athletic programs among its member schools, which include public, private and parochial institutions.
MONTGOMERY – Alabama All-Star head coach Steve Smith greeted Alabama’s 40-man All-Star football team Monday morning at the AHSAA Office in Montgomery. After strong pep talks from AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese and Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA) Director Alvin Briggs, Smith and his coaching staff loaded the players on a charter bus and headed to Hattiesburg (MS) for Saturday’s annual All-Star Game.
The 31st game in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game series, a partnership between the AHSAA and AHSADCA and the Mississippi Association of Coaches (MAC), will be played Saturday at noon on the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg at Carlisle Faulkner Field and will be televised live over the Raycom Media Network of affiliates in Alabama and Mississippi. The AHSAA Radio Network will also broadcast the game via the internet and over its network of radio stations in Alabama.
Alabama’s team won last year’s game 25-14 to increase its record in the series to 22-8. Alabama has won eight of the last nine games but are 0-1 in the only game played in Mississippi, a 28-21 loss in 2015.
Smith and Briggs confirmed that six players were added to the Alabama roster as replacements for a half-dozen original players. The players stepped down due to injuries or sickness.
Two players from Wetumpka High School who played in last weekend’s Class 6A state championship game were added to the team. Running back Kadosiey Smoke replaced Beauregard running back La’Damian Webb, who was injured in the playoffs, and linebacker David Chase Adams replaced Sidney Lanier linebacker Ladedric Jackson. Matthew Flint of Madison County was originally selected to replace Jackson. Smoke rushed for 1,522 yards and 28 touchdowns this season for the Indians (13-2) and caught 17 passes for 194 yards. He also was 4-for-4 passing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Adams had 98 tackles on the season.
Other players added to the squad include linebacker Kenneth “K.J.” Robertson of Thompson and defensive back Jamias Presley of Opelika, replacing Decatur’s Josh Marsh and St. Paul’s Episcopal’s Jalyn Armour-Davis; and defensive linemen Charles Coleman of Mae Jemison and Jalen Cunningham of St. Clair County, who replaced Allen Love of Huffman and Coynis Miller of Jackson-Olin.
Smith said he and coaching staff are eager to get to work with such a talented squad.
“This is such an incredible experience for the players and us coaches,” he said.
Smith’s staff include Enterprise’s David Faulkner, serving as offensive coordinator, and Fyffe’s Paul Benefield, who is serving as defensive coordinator. Rounding out the staff are Maplesville’s Brent Hubbert, Handley’s Larry Strain, Ramsay’s Rueben Nelson, Beauregard’s Rob Carter and Austin’s Jeremy Perkins. Piedmont assistant coach James Blanchard will serve as the scout coach while Billy Odom, Michael Summers and Randy White will serve as administrative coaches.
The players reported today at 2:30 p.m., had pictures made for the game-day souvenir program and were scheduled to have squad meetings. Alabama will practice Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m., and again from 2 to 4 p.m., at Oak Grove High School. Mississippi is practicing at Hattiesburg High School.
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The Super 7 football championship games at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be televised live today over Raycom Media’s network of affiliates. The games will be on their D.2 Bounce channels. In Mobile, WKRG TV 5’s D.3 channel will televise the games. Tonight’s 6A finals between Wetumpka and Pinson Valley is currently still planned to be shown live over WSFA TV 12’s main channel in Montgomery.
Raycom’s production is also being live video streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber platform and over YouTube. For up-to-date TV information and local cable channel options, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”
The AHSAA Radio Network is broadcasting all games live over its statewide radio network and over the internet. A link is provided at www.ahsaa.com
St. Paul’s Episcopal 17, Briarwood Christian 14
TUSCALOOSA – St. Paul’s Episcopal receiver Oliver Willman snagged a 6-yard pass from quarterback Swift Lyle on fourth-and-goal with 1:54 left in the fourth quarter to give the Saints (14-1) a 17-14 victory over previously unbeaten Briarwood Christian (14-1) in the Super 7 Class 5A state football championship game Thursday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium here.
The Willman caught another 6-yard pass one play earlier with Coach Steve Mask’s Saints facing a third-and-10 from the Lions’ 12-yard line. The two pass receptions highlighted a last-ditch 10-play, 78-yard drive that delivered St. Paul’s its third state championship in the last four years and fourth state title overall.
St. Paul’s scored first with a 20-yard field goal by Wilson Beaverstock in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead. Hudson Hartsfield, who finished with five catches for 78 yards, put Coach Fred Yancey’s Lions on top 7-3 with a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Hiers midway through the second quarter. Hiers and Hartsfield hooked up again at 1:07 left in the third period on a 12-yard touchdown connection as the Lions built a 14-3 lead.
The Saints answered that score quickly when Jarrett Eaton hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Lyle just 51 seconds later. The extra-point try failed, however, and Briarwood clinged to a 14-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Briarwood dominated most of the fourth quarter driving to the St. Paul’s 22-yard line with just over four minutes to play. Facing a fourth-and-3, the Lions faked a field-goal try but the pass fell incomplete.
The Saints took then began their final march of the season – driving to the winning touchdown in big part thanks to a 56-yard pass from Lyle to Jalyn Armour-Davis on fourth-and-14 to the Lions 10-yard line with time running out.
Lyle finished 14-of-22 for 236 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors for the Saints. He also rushed for 33 yards on four carries. Eaton had three catches for 74 yards, Armour-Davis had three catches for 55 yards and Willman had three for 29 yards. Jordan Ingram rushed for 44 yards on 16 carries and had two receptions for another 49 yards.
Hiers finished 8-of-18 for Briarwood for 113 yard passing. Luke Prewett had nine rush attempts for 52 yards and J.R. Tran-Reno had 33 yards on four tries.
Daniel Beard had 12 tackles and Gordon Mathers had 10 to pace the St. Paul’s defense. Gabriel Russell had nine stops and Mark Hand had seven for Briarwood.
The 2017 Super 7 State Championships conclude Friday with three games: UMS-Wright (12-2) meeting Fayette County (12-2) at 11 a.m., in the 4A championship, Lanett (14-0) versus Leroy (12-2) in the 2A finals at 3 p.m., and Wetumpka (13-1) facing Pinson Valley (14-0) in the 6A finals at 7 p.m. All games are being televised live by Raycom Media over its Raycom/AHSAA Network of affiliates and D-2 stations. The games are also being live video-streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based network and on You Tube. For more TV information, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”
The AHSAA Radio Network is also broadcasting all games across the state. The link is available at www.ahsaa.com.