DEERFIELD VALLEY- Fans of local high school sports know that an integral part of any high school game is the referee or the umpire. They’re cheered when they make a call that favors the fan’s team, and jeered when one goes against the favored squad.
But do casual fans know just how referees are trained and assigned to games around the state? Or that just about anyone with a passing interest in Vermont sports at the middle and high school level can sign up and become a referee?
In fact, right now there is a need for soccer referees for the upcoming fall season. Gary Blodgett, of Ludlow and the Vermont Soccer Officials Association, is the person who recruits and oversees soccer refs for all of southern Vermont. He’s looking for interested men and women to join the ranks of soccer refs in the region. It doesn’t take much, just an interest in the game and some free time.
“Most of the people have had some involvement in the game,” said Blodgett. “They’ve been a parent, a player or a coach. We just ask that they come with an interest, a willingness to learn, and $75, which covers their first year membership and their insurance. That’s about it. They mostly need to have a willingness to learn.”
Referees earn $75 for a varsity match, less for a junior varsity or middle school game. Novice referees are asked to learn the rules, and are assigned a mentor to help them learn how to work the field while in the zebra stripes.
“We’re always trying to improve the officials, trying to keep everybody on the same page,” said Blodgett. “If somebody’s interested in becoming an official, they first go to a three-hour training session with myself or the northern guy. It’s mostly nuts and bolts, how the book works, going over the rules.”
Once that training session is done, it’s off to the pitch.
“We spend a good amount of time doing on-field mentor shadowing, training officials on-site,” said Blodgett. “We give each new official a mentor, and that person will make sure they work with the new official through the season. Generally, a new official will start with junior varsity or middle school games, but some come in with expertise so you can get them into a high school game.”
Blodgett, a retired coach and educator, has the formal title of Southern Vermont Soccer Officials Assigner for the VSOA. That means he is the person who coordinates scheduling of approximately 75 referees for 500 varsity games for the upcoming fall season. For him, it’s a way to stay involved in a game he has loved since childhood.
“I have been involved in soccer since I was 6 years old,” Blodgett said. “I’m 65. It (refereeing) is still a way for me to be involved, run around on the field, and enjoy it.”
He added that working for the VSOA as an assigner has its ups and downs, as he doesn’t get to referee as much as he would like. “I try to get out as much as possible, but I try to leave myself available for emergencies, like when a ref can’t make a game. I usually keep my gear in the car.”
But he does get to plenty of matches.
“I try to see every official in a game every year,” Blodgett said. “We are constantly training, observing, evaluating, and trying to keep everybody improving. We also try to do clinics before the season and have a bunch of officials go to preseason games where we can informally give feedback. It is good for officials to be watching each other in the preseason. They pick up things here and there.”
Blodgett added that the association sends out weekly emails to referees, which include rule interpretations and tips for officials.
Anyone interested in soccer refereeing is invited to attend one of two training sessions. The first session meets in the cafeteria at Black River High School in Ludlow on Wednesday, August 2, at 6 pm. The second session is being held at Whitcomb High School in Bethel on August 26, at 8:30 am. For more information contact Blodgett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (802) 558-3147.