During football season every fall, officials take the field to regulate play, promote sportsmanship and protect players from harm. It’s an absolutely vital part of the game millions across the world enjoy.
But who is going to protect the officials?
That’s the question Lloyd Dwight Moree Jr., more commonly known around his native Sweetwater area as “Junior,” is struggling with, as are many others involved with officiating in Tennessee high school football.
The numbers of able, local officials are dwindling.
“All across the state, and I’m able to travel across the state to look at different crews and be a part of other associations, about every association in this state has got the same problem that you’re talking about … ” Moree, a TSSAA state supervisor, said.
“I know here locally in (the) Tri-County Football Officials Association, I won’t say we’re hurting, but we’re really needing good young people to get into officiating.”
The issue, Moree said, is that many state football officials are advancing in age and aren’t able to perform as they used to. And officiating associations don’t have enough younger officials joining to be able to pull from.
“It takes a lot of football officials on Friday night to cover all these games and a lot of our officials are getting some age on them, like myself,” Moree said, “and they’re getting to the point where they can’t move as good and run as good and they’re having to come off the field, and we don’t have that pool of officials that we can pull in there and stick them in those positions where people are coming off the field.
“It’s state-wide like that.”
The problem was first brought to light in a story by Taylor Vortherms of The Daily Times in Maryville. The Knoxville Football Officials Association is facing significant issues with staffing games, as it has to work 18 games, but only has 13 crews, according to the story, “Shortage of football officials putting Tennessee schools in a bind.”
“Just basic math says that don’t fit,” Harold Denton, a KFOA supervisor, told The Daily Times. “It’s not just a Tennessee thing, it’s a national thing.”
KFOA often has to utilize assistance from the Blount County Football Officials Association, which itself is well-staffed, something many surrounding associations aren’t able to claim.
‘Doing sort of what we used to do’
Despite the current issues facing officiating, Moree, who recently received his 40-year plaque by the TSSAA, heartily sings the praises of a career he loves.
“I started on the field working little league football,” Moree said. “I went to work for TSSAA as a football official in … 1979, I believe. And I started out working little league and then JV and freshmen and varsity football. I stayed on the field for about 25 years and then I’ve been a supervisor of Tri-County football officials from 2001 to probably 2013, 2012, something like that.
“Then I went to helping Mr. McWhirter out of the Nashville office and evaluating officials. I grade all of the game film for the championship games and we got nine championship games now, so I usually do that in the winter off-months.”
Moree made many special memories as he worked his way up from officiating little league games to evaluating officials in the position, working high school games, that so many officials strive to get to.
“I have a lot of good memories of working with coaches on the sidelines,” Moree said, “and the big special thing about being an official and working on the field is getting to work with the players. Those young men are just awesome young men that take the time to play the sport and make it what it is today.
“It gives somebody that played the game and can’t play it any longer getting into officiating, we’re still out there doing sort of what we used to do, but we just don’t have any pads and cleats on.”
Could some games be moved to Thursdays?
Moree paints a stark picture of what might happen if the numbers in football officiating don’t improve.
“I think at some point in time,” Moree said, “and this is just Junior Moree’s opinion, I think we’re going to have to look at, if officiating doesn’t get better at people getting in, we’re going to have to look at playing some football games on Thursday night.
“Because Friday night football is a great night for football, but if you don’t have the officials to get out there and work those games, then they can’t play football on Friday night.”
Working on a crew on Friday nights is the reward for time spent officiating smaller-level contests. Moree knows the pride and accomplishment that come with reaching that point and would love to see more young officials get there.
But will it remain possible?
“That’s a problem that everybody’s got is retention of officials once you get them into the association,” Moree said. “So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get them on the field, not on Friday nights, you don’t want to put a brand new guy in a Sequoyah-Sweetwater game, for example, but we try to get them started in little league and work them into JV and freshmen.
“And hopefully in a very few years they will be on a Friday night football crew working Friday night football. That’s the goal.”