Love of game keeps referees doing thankless job

Published 5:00 am Friday, November 2, 2007

High school football referees say it’s the love of the game thatkeeps them working what is usually a thankless job.

“It’s exciting to be a referee if you like being fussed at allthe time,” said Brookhaven’s Joe Portrey, who has refereed footballfor 12 years and basketball for 13. “You don’t get a lot of respectbecause you only make half the people happy all the time.”

Referee Mordine Bailey, now of Jackson, was a long-timeBrookhaven resident and teacher at Brookhaven High School. Whilerefereeing a game at BHS recently, he admitted he had seen someangry crowds in his 40 years as a referee.

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“Yeah, you could say there’s been some hostility,” he said. “Butthere are good parts, too. It keeps me active, and I always enjoythe games.”

And Bailey said refereeing is often very similar to being ateacher, and making calls and decisions can sometimes be tough. Butit’s all worth it.

“I started refereeing when I first started teaching,” he said.”And I continued in it after I retired from teaching here at BHS. Ido it because I really enjoy the kids.”

Portrey, who is also a police officer for the Brookhaven PoliceDepartment, said he sees similarities in his two jobs as well.

“I tote a gun in the daytime and a whistle at night. I don’tknow which one is worse,” he said laughing. “But I love bothjobs.”

And of course, there are memorable moments that can be bothhappy and irritating for the men in stripes. Many of them don’thave anything to do with a close game or an exciting play.

“I remember one time I got out there and I was getting ready tostop a play and I realized I didn’t have my whistle with me,” saidBailey. “I had to borrow the coach’s.”

Portrey talked about how crowd members often think they’reanonymous when they’re yelling insults at the referees. But manytimes the peacemakers on the gridiron hear every word.

“There have been things said that I will turn around and look atthe crowd cockeyed and give them a scowl on my face, and I’mthinking, ‘How can you possibly say that to me?'” he said. “In thebasketball gyms or football stadiums I’ve been to where peopledon’t know me personally I’ve had a much better time, because whenthey call my name it gets personal.”

What about the old standard jeer about referees needingglasses?

“I already have them,” said Bailey with a wink.

Which begs the question, does it affect a referee’sperformance?

“Not unless the action is within 18 inches of my eyes. I can see100 miles down the road, but I have to have my reading glasses tosee what’s 20 inches in front of my eyes,” said thealso-bespectacled Portrey.

And are there more hostile crowds than others in the high schoolsports ranks?

“Absolutely. But I’d rather not name anywhere, I don’t want tohurt anyone’s feelings,” said Portrey. “But I do think peopleshould know that just because a referee knows your kids that itdoesn’t affect his ability to call for them or against them. I willnot knowingly take away or give anything to a child that they don’tdeserve.”