Behind the lines: Hey Zebra!!

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We always worried about playing in Byron, not because of the players or fans, but of who might be officiating. At the varsity level, we rarely had issues, though sometimes the guys doing JV games in the Basin are a little suspect when your roll in with a 10 on the left side of your license plate.

One frigid night, the officials came out as our kids warmed up with the Rocky Mountain boys from Byron, Cowley, and Deaver. My assistant coach, Bret Evans, made eye contact with an approaching official and said, “I’ll bet you still can’t shoot free throws.”


The official in question was quick to respond, “I’ll bet you still don’t have a vertical Evans.”

Bret and Frank Gonsalez knew each other from high school when Bret was at Rawlins, and Frank at Worland.

The game was officiated well that night.

Too many people just see the zebra stripes and automatically think of game officials as the enemy. It’s just too easy to be that simple-minded. I’ve heard radio announcers drone on at length about how they hate officials, but in reality, there would be no athletics without them.


No, I never agree with every call, but I’m much more on the side of officials these days than when I was coaching. Your view is just so much better from the bench, or so it seemed.

I’ve seen biased officials over the years, but thankfully they’re a rarity, and in some seasons, I don’t notice any bias at all.

Which brings the question of just who are these people. Do they have lives, families, professions, hopes, dreams, and all the rest of what it means to be human, or are they as some of the talking heads would have us believe, just evil incarnate, there to cheat the home team?


If you’re wondering what the answer is, you’re the reason there is such a shortage of officials in every sport these days.

What do these people do when they’re not calling fouls or adjudicating game situations? Well, here is a breakdown of a few of the ones I know.

Some are in law enforcement as my longtime friend Fred Cox was with the Lander Police Department, his son Jason still is in law enforcement, as is Matt Koritnik, a Powell police offers, and BJ (Brandon) Kidgell, a retired Wyoming Highway Patrol officer who is now the police chief in Manderson.


Some sell insurance as Rory Robinson and Tyler Watson do in Lander and Riverton.

Many of them are teachers and coaches, John Rounds, Scott Quayle, John Scott, Rod Winland, Dave Beemer, and Macey Mortimore come to mind.

Some are retired after working full-time jobs, then officiating in the evenings and on the weekends for decades as Joe White and Joe Doak of Lovell and Thermopolis have done.

Some are former college athletes and businessmen giving back to the community that supported them as kids as Daryl Fullerton, Tyler Watson, and Brian Tucker do.

A few are in agriculture. Joe Bridges is a Simplot Representative and the father and son team of Greg and Gage Bartlett are ranchers in Riverton and Saratoga.

There are even a couple in the medical field in dentist Tyler Graham of Riverton and Mychael Wiles a physical therapist, originally a Burlington Huskie, now working in Worland.

We even have a former state cross-country champion working in Riley Tall White Man. If you’ve watched Riley work a game, you’ve probably noticed he never seems to get tired.

If you need a house built, or a building wired, Greg Rael of Lovell and Johnny Robbins from Powell can do that for you, and if you need an engineer to look things over, Larry Woodington, another Worland official can do the job.

One of my former players is as close to being a full-time professional official as most people ever get in Frisco Saunders. Frisco has moved up to white hat in football, does a lot of basketball, and spends his summers working American Legion through NCAA baseball.

My friend Rich Ramos of Worland, ran the Anthony’s Store in Riverton when he played point guard on our Riverton Ranger City League team three decades ago. He works for Pepsi in Worland now, and we both share stories of how our new artificial knees are doing.

I met Ryan Baumeister for the first time when he was coaching middle school football in Rawlins. Ryan is now a banker in Worland.

One of my favorite young officials is Preston Wardell who played at Burlington, is a member of the 307 Officials Association, and somehow managed to keep his schedule while going to school in Laramie. It’s not that easy to do.

The point is that these people already all have full-time jobs, most of them have families, some have been at it so long they have grandchildren and yet they make time to show up on a cold Friday night in a gym hundreds of miles from home, then drive the same distance the other way on Saturday for another distant game on the other side of the state.

Yes, they earn a little cash, but it’s very little. To a person, they do it for the kids, so those teenagers can play the game under safe, fair, controlled conditions.

It wouldn’t hurt you to thank them for the effort once in a while. They already hear the complaints, loud and clear coming from the stands. A little support would go a long way.


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