by John Unrein
Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium in Logan, Utah has mountains as the background setting for Utah State college football games. The same can be said for War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming that hosts the Wyoming Cowboys and their opponents during Saturdays in the fall. Access to such beautiful venues can be gained by a ticket or years of hard work.
For Grain Valley resident John Kilmer, years of climbing in the officiating profession has led to the latter. A Friday afternoon flight from KCI out west to work a Saturday game prior to returning home on Sunday has become a normal routine during football season. Kilmer relishes the opportunity to stay close to competition.
Twenty-eight years as a high school football and basketball official, along with 4 years officiating high school track and field is an indication of the dues Kilmer has paid to rise in his chosen part time avocation. He can still be seen on Friday nights under the lights in the Kansas City Suburban area working football games as well as on the basketball court during the winter months. Kilmer has not stopped wanting to be a part of high school contests as a Missouri State High School Activities Association official.
“Officiating can become addictive. It brings you close to athletic contests. You want to be invisible walking into a hotel before or after a game. That’s kind of the goal,” Kilmer said.
“I started out working as many high school games as I could. Pop Warner on Saturdays as well. I began attending college officiating camps in the spring. My first opportunity to work a college game came after participating in a camp in Conway, Arkansas.”
Kilmer has been a Division I and II college football official for twenty-two years. Thirteen years in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Conference along with work in the Western Athletic Conference, Southland Conference, and eight years in the Mountain West Conference round out Kilmer’s resume. Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho on the campus of Boise State University is Kilmer’s favorite stadium to referee a game. Especially, a cold weather one.
That many miles of travel have led Kilmer to have more than a few good stories to tell and only one that he wanted to share.
“Our crew was scheduled to work a Division II postseason football game in Minnesota. We met at 5:00 am in Platte City by the airport to travel north together in an RV. We were all relaxed in the cab when he heard a loud noise and started to smell something. We had run over a dead deer on the side of the road and his antler had become lodged in a tire,” Kilmer said.
“We had to find a truck stop where we could buy a new tire and get it installed. We still managed to get there in time for the pregame meeting the night before.”
Kilmer is thankful for the numerous mentors he’s had on his officiating journey. So much so, that it’s one of the keys to becoming a successful official in Kilmer’s view.
“Work as many games as possible. Finding someone to be a mentor at the level you want to be at eventually is vital as well. The Greater Kansas City Officials Association is a good organization to join. Most officiating assignments come from the scheduling of the association or a conference supervisor,” Kilmer said.
The current officiating shortage at the high school level in the United States is problematic. Kilmer has specific thoughts on what can be done to overcome the issue and continue to assure fair play for participants.
“Coaches and athletic directors at the high school level need to become more involved in encouraging their former athletes to become officials. Coaches and athletic directors know their former players the best and have the access to recruit them,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer continued, “Behavior in athletics is hurting young officials. Sportsmanship needs to be improved. We try to keep our focus in what’s going on with the field or court.”
“You acquire thick skin. When a coach is upset, its usually not personal. They are fighting for their kids and their program. That’s a good thing to remember.”
MSHSAA does not require member officials to belong to certified local officials’ associations. They do strongly suggest they join one whenever possible. Many important ideas and officiating methods can be learned from a membership in a local official’s association.
The Greater Kansas City Officials Association is registered with MSHSAA and has met the criteria as a certified local association. Those who have questions or are interested in joining GKCOA may contact them at email@example.com.
The following are seven steps listed on MSHSAA’s website to help new officials.
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR STUDY. Textbooks are made available through your state association, such as rule books, case books, interpretation meeting folders or handbooks, the Officials Manual and the MSHSAA Journal, which contains many items of importance to officials. Game rules are generally complex, and you don't learn them without extensive study. Many experienced officials still average several hours each week of solid study of the rule’s publications. There is no sadder spectacle than an official who doesn't know the rules. You learn the rules by means of thorough intensive study.
ATTEND ALL RULES INTERPRETATION MEETINGS WITHIN YOUR REACH. They are arranged for the purpose of reviewing old rules, explaining new ones and giving positive interpretations on the trickier ones. It is also a good place to get acquainted with fellow officials, coaches, and athletic directors.
ATTEND MECHANICS CLINICS WHEN AVAILABLE. Knowing and understanding proper positioning will enable you to make the right call.
JOIN A LOCAL OFFICIALS GROUP. There may be one in your area or not too far away. Many of these local groups meet regularly for rules discussion and for discussing common problems. The state sponsored meetings are important but local groups must take over in a follow-up program of rules study and interpretations.
TAKE THE RULES EXAMINATIONS PROVIDED BY MSHSAA AND BY YOUR LOCAL GROUP. The National Federation examinations provide an excellent review and a thorough test. There is no finer review of the rules than the challenge presented in writing a good rules examination.
SEE ALL THE GAMES YOU CAN, especially games worked by capable officials. It is one of the best ways to learn about the technique and mechanics of officiating.
ALWAYS STRIVE TO IMPROVE. The game of officiating has no place for an official who doesn't want to improve him/herself. Here, you either get some place or drop out; you can't stand still. Give attention to such factors as rules examination grades, ratings received from schools and assistance from rules meetings.
Grain Valley resident John Kilmer with former Colorado State head football coach Jim McElwain.
Photo courtesy: John Kilmer
MSHSAA official and Grain Valley resident John Kilmer officiates a high school basketball game. Photo credit: John Overstreet