RICHMOND, Va. -- The NFL first introduced America to Thursday Night football years ago on Thanksgiving.
Now, it’s a staple of their yearly schedule. And high school football in Central Virginia has followed suit.
Last year, for the first time, a number of regular season games were scheduled on Thursday nights. Not because of weather or other issues, but because of a shortage of officials for the game.
The Central Virginia Football Officials Association provides referees and other officials for football games from middle school through varsity, and covers an area from the Northern Neck, to Amelia to the North Carolina border. Normally, a varsity football game will have a seven-person officiating crew covering all areas of the field. To do that for every game in Central Virginia requires over 200 officials if everyone wants to play on Friday nights. Currently, the CVFOA has roughly 150 officials, which is why games have been moved to Thursday nights again this season.
But thanks to a recruiting drive and some publicity for their plight, the CVFOA has about two dozen new recruits who will begin their first seasons on the sidelines this year.
“The biggest challenge is life,” said Danny Denton, President of the CVFOA. “The time commitment is something they don’t realize. It’s Tuesday night meetings, Wednesday night JV games, and Thursday and Friday night varsity games. Saturday Little League. You can work almost all week doing something.”
The new recruits come from all walks of life. Some still work day jobs, some are retired, but all share a love of football.
“I always wanted to be a participant on the sidelines,” said new recruit Alva Pace. “I never really thought about officiating.”
“I love football,” added John Harvey, another first-year recruit. “There’s nothing like giving back and learning the game more.”
Even those who played football at multiple levels report they are learning new aspects of the game now that they are wearing stripes.
Monica Southall played for the Virginia Panthers, Richmond Black Widows, and River City Sting women’s teams for the past seven years. This is her way to remain connected to the game.
“I guess now I’m going to the dark side and seeing what refereeing is like,” she said with a grin.
Officials watch the game differently than fans or even coaches. Each position is trained to watch a different part of the action looking for infractions.
“It’s nothing like I thought,” Southall added. “There’s so much to look for and things that I never thought I had to pay attention to.”
“It’s different. It’s like night and day,” Harvey said of watching as an official as opposed to watching as a fan. “You’re not looking at the ball.”
“The game is going at regular speed,” said Pace. “But it seems so fast for what you’re looking for.”
But each of them is happy they made the decision to, as Southall said, go to the ‘dark side’.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” Pace said.
Denton admits that, even with the new officials coming on board, they still will not be able to have any games officiated by a full compliment of a seven person crew at all this year until the playoffs begin in November. If you’re interested in becoming a football official, you can learn more at their website.