You say you want to be a zebra and spend Friday nights in the fall officiating high schools football games in Mississippi? Or a basketball official in the winter, a baseball umpire in the spring, or an official for any of the other Mississippi High School Activities Association sports?
If you're at least 18 years old, the first step is to fill out an application available on the MHSAA website – misshsaa.com.
“There is always a need for new officials in every sport,” said MHSAA assistant athletic director Robert Holloway. “Once an application is filled out, we will be in touch with you and put you in contact with a local association.”
Associations throughout the state are responsible for assigning officials, and not just for high school games. Officials are also needed for junior varsity and middle school contests.
Most new officials begin with junior high or JV games, but that is not a requirement. “If the assigner thinks they are good enough to be at the high school level, they can assign them to high school games,” Holloway said.
MHSAA held its annual “Officiate Mississippi Day” meeting at the Rankin County branch of Hinds Community College July 20. More than 100 officials from throughout the state listened to officiating experts in football, basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball.
Presenters included retired NFL official Jeff Triplette and two umpires who have worked the College World Series. Paul Guillie is the SEC coordinator for umpires and Troy Fullwood holds the same position with the ACC.
“They gave information on how they handle games, the philosophy of what they do and why they do it,” Holloway said. “We are always trying to get better officials.”
To be certified as an official, applicants must attend sessions conducted by local associations and must pass an on line test. The test consists of 50 multiple choice questions, with a minimum of 80 percent for passage.
The need for new officials results from officials who drop out. “The number one reason for officials getting out is sportsmanship problems, problems from fans, coaches and the players themselves. It has become a national trend to berate officials” Holloway said.
“It has not come to the point (in Mississippi) that they are struck by somebody. But we have had to talk to some institutions about fan behavior.”
Home teams must have an administrator — the school principal or someone such as an assistant principal or athletic director designated by the principal — at all contests. The administrator meets with coaches and officials before games.
There is an assigning secretary in each association for each sport charged with assigning officials for games. The assigning secretary can be an official or a retired official.
Roger Short has been a football official for more than 30 years and an assigning secretary for District IV for more than 20 years. He is assigning secretary for baseball and softball and assistant assigning secretary for football. The district include 24 schools with football teams, from Aberdeen in the north to Philadelphia in the south, from Winona in the west to the Alabama state line.
The district normally holds three clinics for officials for each sport during the season. “We're responsible for making sure they know all the rule changes,” Short said.
The district has 13 crews for football games comprised of six on field officials and a clock operator. It's not an MHSAA requirement that crews remain together throughout the season, but they do in District IV, where Short is a referee. “It's easier to work as a team,” he said. “I know what members of my crew are going to do. I know their strengths.”
Prior to the start of the regular season, each of the District IV crews will work jamborees and be evaluated. During the season, schools are required to submit game films that are used to evaluate the officials.
There is no maximum age for being an MHSAA official, but Short said there will come a time when they need to step down. “When they hit 75 say, they're not what they used to be. They're not as mentally sharp. They need to sit down. But they get it in their blood and it's hard to get some guys to sit down.”
Pay for officials differs by sport. For football, on field officials receive $100 for regular season games, $125 for the playoffs and $150 for state championship contests.