Football officials get little thanks for job well done
Top area officials Jemal Taylor, Mitch Fazzio, and Allen Cramer talk about the reasons they do their job and some of the challenges.
Cary Fields liked nothing better than heckling referees, and he was giving Stan Staneff an earful.
It was 1975, back when UCF was known as Florida Tech and the Knights played Rollins in a men's basketball game at Winter Park High School. Fields was there, and his mouth was working as much as the players on the court.
Finally, at halftime, Staneff came up to him, and they went into a locker room.
"He said, 'What makes you think you know so much?''' Fields said. "I answered him, 'I know I know more than you do.' He said, 'If you know so much, why don't you become a referee?'
"I did and he took me under his wing, and I found out I didn't know near as much as I thought I knew."
Fields, 63, is now part of the Central Florida Officials Association, the main organization responsible in the area for providing crews for high-school football games. About 220 of the group's 450 officials can be found on area fields most Friday nights, working in six-person crews to penalize rulebreakers.
The ones they see, that is.
They do it for betweeen $46 and $75 per game, depending on whether the event is varsity, junior varsity or freshman football. The second-guessing they receive is free.
Last Friday, Oviedo coach Wes Allen walked off the field after a 23-0 victory against Winter Springs, certain the officials had missed a call that went against the Lions.
"I thought the kid [from Winter Springs] had fumbled a punt return," Allen said, "but I looked at the game film, and he made the right call.
"It wasn't a fumble."
The CFOA oversees football games in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake and parts of Volusia. The A-1 Officials Association and Mid Coast Officials Association handle some Volusia games.
"We are graded by everyone, the fans, the coaches, the players,'' CFOA President Allen Cramer said.
Said Jamel Taylor, a full-time salesman and part-time umpire: "The most important thing for us is to go to a game and no one remembers who we are. If they remember you, that means you put your will into the game, and no official wants that."
The officials' preparation begins on Monday night, when Mitch Fazzio, CFOA vice president of football, conducts a conference call with referees.
"I go through every game on the schedule, if there were any problems, the good stuff, the bad stuff that happened, even things as trivial as where the referees park their cars," Fazzio said.
In most cases, the officials can be as dedicated as the players to making sure they are in the right position. That's why Morris Middleton, 78, begins his day at 5:30 a.m. with a workout that includes weightlifting and running on a treadmill.
He does it to keep up with youngsters 60 years younger than he is.
"It's not anything I would want to do,'' Allen said. "I don't like to run as much as they do.''
For Fields, his heckling days are long gone. What he gained nearly four decades ago is an appreciation for officials and a chance to see games from a different view.
He also developed a close friendship with Staneff.
"Twenty-five years later, I delivered the eulogy at his funeral," Fields said.
A good call.
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Leaders of the Central Florida Officials Association include, from left, commissioner Jemal Taylor, vice president Mitch Fazzio, booking agent Don Trawick and president Allen Cramer. (Charles King, Orlando Sentinel)