The two teams facing off in Saturday’s State Class 4A championship football game, eventual state champ Richland and Woodinville, already were a band of brothers long before they headed to Tacoma, having battled through 13 games together, practices and summer camps.
They knew what each other was thinking BEFORE they thought it.
The third team on the field, not so much.
They introduced themselves to each other the night before kickoff.
Tim Peterson, an area high school football official since 1986, was picked to be the game’s head linesman.
“I don’t know the other guys and I’ve never worked with them before,” he said. “The referee is from Snohomish. The umpire is from Seattle. The guy who will work opposite from me is from Wenatchee and I don’t remember where the other guy is from.”
That’s part of the fun of doing a state championship game, and it’s an honor to be tabbed for the job, Peterson said.
But there’s also a good deal of pressure.
In a lot of ways, he said, being a game official at a state championship game is much like being under a microscope.
Game officials have observers who watch their preparation. Others who watch their game performance.
Because even the best of officials can learn something new.
After the game, there’s a detailed debriefing where they go over their mechanics at different stages of the game just played. Often they are asked how and why they made specific calls.
In other words, they are occasionally asked to defend their decisions.
And then there’s the peer pressure.
“There are 12 guys from our association who are going over to watch the game,” Peterson said. “I’m going to feel their eyes on me the whole game!”
Peterson is in the middle of a family that boasts three generations of football and basketball officials. His father, Dennis, was inducted into the Big Sky Officials Association Hall of Fame after a football career that spanned more than three decades. Tim’s brother, Mike, was a basketball official before his career made it impossible to do games. And Tim’s son is a fledgling official and the pair have worked varsity games together.
That, Tim believes, is the secret to having a long and successful career as a game official, no matter which sport.
“I was lucky to have some great mentors,” he said. “My dad, of course, was the most important one for me, but there were others that took me under their wing.”
Longtime Central Valley educator and referee Clyde “Chic” Sale was one. Longtime Pac-10 and Pac-12 official Walt Wolf was another.
“Those two guys really helped me a lot. Chic was really helpful with high-school-level sports and Walt had that college perspective that was helpful. But there is a rich tradition for officiating in the Spokane area.
“Every year, I look for one young official and I try to be there for them and act as a mentor. I like to pass along the tradition and help someone get started.”
The demands on a game official have increased since Peterson got his start.
“For starters, the players are bigger and stronger and faster,” he said. “And so is the game.”
And as coaches like Mike Leach and others bring new-fangled passing attacks to the college games, high school coaches are always looking to adapt those offenses and defenses to the high school game.
“They’re doing things on the football field that we never thought about doing when I was playing the game,” Peterson laughed. “You have to keep up.”
Peterson said he had goals going into Saturday’s championship game, and most of them revolve around a simple desire to remain anonymous. No one wants to be the guy who changes a state championship with a single call – for or against.
There are still folks out there who remember the basketball official, Chris Manolopoulos, who ruled that Greg Schmidt’s buzzer-beater against Mercer Island in 1981 had, indeed, beaten the buzzer and earned Shadle Park the state basketball championship.
“I strive to have the perfect game, where you don’t make a mistake and are always in the right position for every play,” Peterson said. “Hasn’t happened yet. But if it ever did, I’d quit then and there. I can’t think of a better time and place to retire than after the perfect game.”