By STEVE HEISER
This is a week for giving thanks.
So it seems appropriate to thank a group of area men and women who are normally overlooked and under appreciated — high school sports officials.
It’s a group that nearly everyone — fans, players and coaches alike — seems to enjoy pounding.
Go to any scholastic event and you can usually hear officials accused of blindness, bias and ineptitude, often in colorful language.
That kind of behavior wouldn’t be accepted in most any other walk of life, but it’s become business as usual at some high school sports events.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the officials are also your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Or that they’re working for nominal pay. The abuse still rains down on them.
It’s usually a thankless job. In fact, it’s downright amazing that the PIAA can recruit enough officials to do all of the games in all of the sports at all of the different levels (junior high, junior varsity and varsity).
Still, these dedicated men and women return game after game, year after year.
Because without them, the competitions couldn’t be played, and that’s unacceptable to them.
Almost all of the local officials are former athletes themselves, and they know the important role that athletics can play in the development of young people. They know there are crucial lessons to be learned. They know that physical activity can grow into a habit that can improve long-term health. And they know the life-long friendships that can be fostered.
So the officials shrug off the criticism, develop a thick hide and do the best job they can.
Ask any official, and his or her No. 1 goal is always to get the call right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Officials are human, after all. But they get it right most of the time. And when they get it wrong, they are often the first to admit it.
The No. 2 goal would be to be invisible. If, after the game is over, no one remembers the officiating, then they’ve done their job.
To achieve those goals, the local officials are constantly striving to improve. They regularly attend meetings and seminars to talk about rules, mechanics and points of emphasis. They work hard at their jobs and they take it very seriously. They don’t just show up, blow the whistle a few times and reach out their hand for a paycheck.
Going above and beyond: Also, officials don’t just officiate. They also try to encourage sportsmanship and help our young athletes in other ways.
For example, the Gretchen Wolf Swartz Scholarship Fund announced last week that it would award four $7,500 Sportsmanship Awards to local athletes in 2015 who have honored “honesty, integrity, cooperation, courage, teamwork and discipline.”
That’s a total of $30,000 in scholarships. That’s not chump change.
Gretchen Wolf Swartz was a York County basketball official from 1981 to 1995. Following her untimely death from leukemia in 1997, her fellow officials created the scholarship fund to promote and honor the sportsmanship she so effectively displayed.
The first Gretchen Wolf Swartz Sportsmanship Scholarships — both in the amount of $1,000 — were awarded in 2001. More than $70,000 in scholarship money has been awarded overall.
That’s called going above and beyond your job description.
It’s something that officials do all the time — quietly and without fanfare.
Yes, officiating can be a thankless job. The pay is low and the stress is high.
But in this time of Thanksgiving, that should change.
The next time you attend a high school event, don’t berate the officials for every perceived blown call. Instead, tell them you appreciate all their hard work. Tell then they got the call right. Tell them they were invisible.
Most importantly, tell them thanks for a job well done.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.