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UNG students moonlight as sports officials

UNG students moonlight as sports officials
UNG student Nick Calhoun, left, Rob Kelly, UNG intramural sports and sports club coordinator, and UNG student Will Anglin before a middle school and junior varsity doubleheader football game.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) is slowly developing a pool of students whose love of sports could translate into a career as a game official.

Rob Kelly, intramural sports and sports clubs coordinator at the Dahlonega Campus, says an increasing number of students who officiate intramural sports at UNG are filling a need for local officials at the middle and high school level. Kelly keeps an eye out for students working intramural games who he thinks would make good candidates as area game officials.

 "It's a multi-beneficial arrangement; the high school officials associations get UNG students eager to get officiating experience and the students come back with a better understanding of the game when they officiate UNG intramural games," Kelly said. "Our goal is to eventually be a reliable source to supply area officials associations with young officials."

Applicants must take a test administered by the Georgia High School Association for each sport they want to officiate. There is no set minimum score to qualify, though there are required minimum scores to work varsity and playoff games.

For a college student, the pay isn't bad--$50 for a high school basketball game and $80-100 for football. However, Kelly said most officials don't see that money until halfway or even the end of the season. That, coupled with the cost of supplying one's own uniform ($200) and membership dues to officiating associations ($75-100) leave calling games to only the very dedicated students.

Will Anglin, a senior from Dawsonville, Georgia, is in his first year of officiating high school football games after a year of refereeing recreational league sports. While first-year officials usually start out at the middle school or junior varsity level, Anglin has already officiated at five varsity games due to his prior experience. The 22-year-old secondary math education major played four years of high school football as a wide receiver and defensive back and said this is his way of staying in the game, "under the bright lights."

"I came in [to officiating] at the right time, because there's a need for high school sports officials, a lot of them are retiring," Anglin said. "It's fun for me, but it's also really demanding. We have weekly meetings to go over the rule books and we study game film of other officials. I've come to appreciate the job officials do in calling a game."

The need for more officials is real, says Tim Tipton, president of the Lanier Football Officials Association (LFOA), an organization with 105 members who cover 23 area high schools and an equal number of middle schools. Tipton has 32 years of experience officiating games, and said a number of factors, including age, travel and verbally abusive spectators and parents are thinning the officiating ranks.

"A number of [officials] are in their 50s and older who are going to be retiring in a few years," Tipton said. "We desperately need younger guys for all high school sports, but football in particular, because it takes at least six officials to work a game."

Tipton hopes that UNG will become a future recruiting ground and credits Kelly to steering the students who have a passion for sports to consider officiating as a side career.

Nick Calhoun, 20, a business management major from Athens, got interested in officiating after his older sister talked about how much she enjoyed refereeing intramural games at the University of Georgia. He began officiating UNG intramural sports his freshman year in 2015, then high school basketball and high school football the next year. This year he works 2-3 football games a week, and hopes to continue to officiate after graduating UNG.

"Officiating the games keeps you involved in the sport, Calhoun said."If there is a downside, it's all the travelling we have to do, but even then, the crew can partner up and drive together. But to me, it doesn't feel like work. I really love doing this."

Kelly says UNG students are in a good place to learn sports officiating through intramurals.

"The students get a lot of game repetitions, they can view video of their games and other student-officials to be critiqued, and we have a good support system here," Kelly said. "It's sort of like a family; we discuss rules, interesting situations, and push each other to keep improving."

For more information about becoming an official with LFOA, visit their website.

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