Intramurals: Rookie flag football referees step up


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The flag football season comes to an end next week, and it won't only be the freshman players wrapping up their first taste of the sport.

The Iowa Recreational Services has had to ask many rookie referees to step into leadership roles often reserved for multiyear intramural veterans. After losing more referees to graduation than normal, first-time officials were given the option to become head refs at the beginning of the season.

"This is one of the first times in recent memory we've had this many rookie referees," said Eric Cohen, the Recreational Service's graduate assistant for intramurals and facilities. "We have around eight to 10 rookies who are head referees. Normally, we don't have any — at least not at the beginning of the season."

Referees for flag football are divided into two groups. Official 1s are a game's head referee, and Official 2s are the line judges, back judges, and scorekeepers. Generally, Official 2s are new referees and Official 1s are veterans.

Scott Subak, a two-year veteran ref, became an Official 1 as a rookie last season.

"It was a lot more challenging," he said. "You have to know more, because you are in control of the game. It's a lot more responsibility."

Will Reisner has learned that firsthand this year. He's one of the rookie referees who was thrust into a leadership role earlier this season.

"I wasn't expecting to be a top official so early," he said. "The first thing we learn is to be a side or back judge, so I was expecting to be one of those. I was really nervous for my first game as head referee.

"I'm the one who players complain to, and I'm in charge of managing the game. I'm expected to know the yardage rules and penalties."

Some people might struggle if given the responsibility of being a head referee at the beginning of a season, but Cohen said he's been pleased with his rookies so far.

"The majority of them are pretty good," Cohen said. "They're definitely better than we expected. For some of them, this is their first time officiating anything — let alone flag football. Of course there's always room for improvement. It's a season-long learning process."

Subak said the toughest part was the steep learning curve.

"It's a pretty tough thing to do," he said. "You have to learn really fast. What really helps is asking questions and watching better referees than yourself. When you're watching, you're learning."

Reisner said the respect between players and referees is one of the most important aspects of a football game, and an aspect he has gotten a better grasp on as the season has progressed.

"The players might be able to tell we're rookies because of some hesitation when it comes to close plays or penalties," Reisner said. "But I think with time, we've mostly gained their respect."

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