By day, one is a pastor, another a judge and another a police chief.
On fall Friday nights, though, they referee and coach high school football.
They serve and protect their communities in their vocations. But they see the mandate extending outside their offices to the football field.
To that end, they referee and coach because it’s a way to give something back to youth sports.
Rev. Larry Cudmore and First District Magistrate Robert Burton are longtime referees. Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Dave Scates was a veteran official, too, until bad knees forced him to retire five years ago. He’s been an assistant coach at Coeur d’Alene High since.
Each is 47 years old and wants to continue his hobby as long as he’s healthy.
Cudmore, pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Post Falls, started officiating as a way to help pay some bills for seminary. But there was a another reason.
The football and basketball teams he played on in a rural North Dakota town were perennial losers.
“It gives me a chance to be around kids and teams that are successful,” Cudmore said. “But at the same time I can empathize with the kids that are on the losing teams. I find myself encouraging the kids that are losing in the games. I tell them ‘I know it’s tough and discouraging, but keep playing hard.”’
Cudmore said the satisfaction of giving his best effort overrides occasional criticism from coaches or fans. But he did have a close call with some unruly fans his first season.
He was officiating with a three-man crew in a small western Minnesota town in the last game of the season. The hometown crowd didn’t much appreciate the officials’ performance.
“The home team lost and of course it was all our fault,” Cudmore said. “I’m driving by myself, and the other two are in a car. Some people in a pickup started following us. My partners snuck off in an alley and lost them, but the pickup followed me so close I couldn’t see the headlights. I mean they were within inches of me. They stayed on my tail for 30 minutes.”
When Cudmore reached the city limits of Minneapolis, his pursuers turned around.
Cudmore felt fortunate. At another game that night, a fan grabbed a folding chair from the band section and ran up behind the referee and clobbered him over the head.
Cudmore has officiated football and basketball games involving boys from his church. From year to year, boys who have been through the court system for juvenile violations or family dispute situations play in games Burton officiates. And criminal reports cross Scates’ desk involving boys he’s coached or is coaching.
“Officiating for me is an opportunity for people to see that clergy are real people, normal people,” Cudmore said.
Burton often orders youth to get involved in an activity, as a condition of probation. Some have met that requirement by turning out for sports, he said.
“If they have too much free time they tend to get into trouble,” Burton said.
Scates remembers a few years ago seeing the name of a player on a police report for shoplifting. At the next practice, the boy approached Scates.
“He was bragging about it to the other players,” Scates recalled. “He asked me if I saw his name on the police report. I told him yes and asked him why he was bragging about it. He didn’t talk with me for two weeks.”
The boy eventually sought counsel from Scates, and the police chief is proud to point out that the former player has straightened out his life. He lives by himself in an apartment, holds down a job and goes to college.
“He’s on the right track,” Scates said. “We always talk whenever we see each other.”
Scates knows that the 40 to 50 boys he coaches from year to year, as a group, are a microcosm of society. There are successful, bright boys and there are some that struggle, often landing in trouble.
“Not all the kids we see are law-abiding,” Scates said. “The way a lot of them approach you is they want to talk about a problem a friend has, a sister has or a brother has. But you know they’re talking about themselves. So you listen and tell them ‘Well, your friend or your sister should do this or that.”’
Burton sees many similarities between a judge and referee.
Both have rules or laws to enforce.
“I try to referee in a fair and impartial manner, just as I do in the courtroom,” Burton said. “The ultimate goal is to see that justice is done.”
There’s room for flexibility, both Burton and Cudmore said. Refs could throw a flag on every play but sometimes the best thing to do is keep the flag in their pocket.
And, contrary to what some coaches might think, referees know they make mistakes.
“We’re human too,” Cudmore said. “Coaches make mistakes, players make mistakes, referees make mistakes.”
That reminded Cudmore of a basketball game he worked involving a boy from his church.
The boy took a shot from long range. Cudmore thought the shot was taken inside the 3-point arc. The boy thought otherwise.
When Cudmore stepped behind his pulpit the following Sunday, a piece of paper with a drawing of a basketball court awaited him. A note pointed out that a shot taken behind the 3-point line is worth three points.
“It was really funny,” Cudmore said. “There’s something exhilarating about being with the kids.”
Burton and Scates offer an amen.
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