They wear black and white striped jerseys that you can see for miles. And still they try not to be noticed.
They blow shrill whistles and wave their hands in the air. And still they try not to be noticed.
High school football officials will tell you their goal is to let the game play out as unfettered as possible; for folks to leave the stadium not giving the officials a second thought.
To notice them is to criticize. To call out to them from the comfortable confines of the stands is usually to signal that you know the rules better than they.
And of course, you don’t.
“Usually the person who yells the loudest knows the (rules) the least,” said Joe Demeter, of Oakland and who officiated Friday night in the North Coast Section playoff game between Rancho Cotate and Analy high schools.
And everyone with a little bit of high school ball under his belt is an expert — made even more so with the benefit of video replay in slow motion.
High school officials don’t have that luxury. Even with a state-mandated minimum 18 hours of annual training and sometimes decades of experience, calls are missed. Boos — and worse — ensue.
To some extent, it’s part of the game. But officials say that increasingly, the level of abuse hurled at the men and women who are very close to volunteering their time to make sure these athletic contests can be played, is making young refs quit and keeping many from even signing up.
“It is hard to get people to come out and take verbal abuse,” said Spencer Crum, youth football leagues assignor for the North Bay Officials Organization.
“It’s pretty tough at times. Some games are better than others, obviously,” he said. “If you can get on or off the field and no one knows your name or who you are, you have had a successful game.”
Success is key because perfection is impossible.
“No one has ever worked a perfect game, it doesn’t matter what level,” said Pete Dardis, the high school football assignor for the North Bay Officials Organization.
“Human error will take place somewhere in one game or another,” he said.
Like when Petaluma High lost to Analy on Nov. 6 on a last-play Hail Mary that with the help of slow-motion and freeze frame looked like it may have been shy of the goal line but which was called a touchdown. Or two weeks later when an inadvertent whistle in a crucial play changed the course of the contest between Petaluma and Rancho Cotate.
You watch those games or read the follow up stories and you ache for the players and the coaches.
But ache for an official?
Those moments — because they are just a moment, not a whole game — are an official’s worst nightmare, when the focus lands on the guy in stripes instead of the kids on the field.
“It’s a very difficult avocation,” Dardis said. “It’s a very, very difficult situation. It happens so quickly and if you are not in the right position you can miss it.”
And face it, you can be in the best position in the world and still make a mistake. It happens.