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Spotlight: Football Officials


ANAHEIM — It's a tough way to make $52, but Jim Patterson has few complaints.

Patterson is a high school football official. He has been doing it for more than 25 years. And though he may have lost a step or two over the years, Patterson, 57, can't think of a better way to spend a fall evening.

"It was 1969 when I first started. I was 29 and coaching football and baseball. I was a teacher with a family and I needed some extra income," said Patterson, Esperanza boys' athletic director. "It was a way I could make some extra money and do all the other things I was doing."

Patterson, who started officiating basketball games, had no idea that what was supposed to be supplemental income would turn into a long-term commitment.

As one of the county's most respected football officials, Patterson is a member of the Orange County Football Officials Assn., a division of the Southern California Football Officials Assn., which is a member of the parent organization, the National Federation of Football Officials Assn. He, like his officiating brethren, is required to be a member of all these organizations.

Though Patterson's credentials as an official are impressive--he has also officiated football and basketball in the college ranks for 10 years--he still has to be recertified every year.

"You have to go to all the meetings in August and take the test again," Patterson said. "It doesn't matter who you are or how long you've been doing this. Everybody has go through this every season."

Patterson said rookie referees are initially assigned to freshman or frosh/soph games. As they learn the craft, they'll eventually be assigned to varsity games.

Before each season, coaches are given the names of the officials who will be covering their games. Patterson said if the coaches don't want a particular official, they can "red-line" him.

"It can be for all kinds of reasons why a coach might not want a certain official calling his game," Patterson said. "Maybe a personality conflict. . . . maybe they don't like the way an official calls penalties."

Patterson said he meets with his crew about 1 1/2 hours before each game.

"There are a lot of things to go over. I like to talk to the coaches before the game and find out what gimmicks they might be running. I also meet with my crew and chain gang to make sure everything is in order," he said.

Patterson's crew consists of Nick Fuscardo (umpire); Jeff Moon (head linesman); Paul Sifkowic (line judge); and Dennis Gienger (back judge). This same group of officials will work together the entire season. The pay rate runs between $45 and $52 per official per game.

Patterson said he prefers to use his own people on the chain gang, which is operated by booster parents at most schools.

"A bad chain gang can really slow a game up," he said.

Patterson remembers one game--the 1977 contest between Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley--that he particularly enjoyed officiating.

"That was a great game to work," he said. "It was the two powerhouses in Orange County and it was played at the Big A. There were 30,000 people and it came down to the last play of the game. That was just a great game."

Patterson said prep football hasn't changed much in the 28 years he's served as an official. Only the social aspects have changed, he said, and for the worse.

"Oh, the players have gotten bigger and faster, but the big change is the attitude," he said. "I think most of these kids are good, but they seem to have lower respect for everybody in general, and not just the officials. We need to work together to help control the game. That's why we had to put in fighting rules and non-participating fighting rules in the books recently."

Though Patterson is concerned about the game, he has no plans to retire from officiating.

"I don't do nearly the amount of games I used to, but I'm still enjoying it," he said. "I think the biggest thing to remember as an official is that we're doing this job for the kids who are playing. We're not doing it for us, the parents, the coaches or the fans."


Prep Extra will regularly spotlight people working with high school athletes. Suggestions are welcome for topics of future stories. Hamilton can be reached at (714) 966-5904 or by e-mail at

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