Tommy Brush has been a high school football official for 32 years. He often works many Friday nights alongside his brother, Steve, who has been wearing a striped shirt for 40 years.
They’ve seen about everything you can ever see and hear while blowing the whistle, but he has never seen anything like what happened on a field in Texas in early September.
“I was in shock,” says Tommy Brush, after watching video of a high school player intentionally blind-siding an official with a vicious hit.
Brush and his team of officials often ride together to their assignment on Friday nights.
Since this incident, there’s been no shortage of conversation about the topic.
Brush is quick to say that he’s never been touched by a player. In more than 30 years on the field, he also has never seen anything like what he saw in Texas.
“If it ever got like that here, I’d get out,” Brush adds.
What allows something like this to happen?
Brush says much of what transpires on the field is a direct reflection of the coach. If the coach doesn’t spend his time yelling and screaming at the refs during the game, the players don’t either.
Now as for the parents, that can be a totally different story.
Brush has seen high school players become more vocal in questioning certain penalties and fouls.
“Everybody believes the louder they yell, the more apt they are to be heard.”
It rarely works that way.
We’ve all seen those parents who lean on the fence or wait in the parking lot to offer a few parting words to the linesmen, back judges and referees. Officials are conditioned to let a certain amount of that slide.
Brush, a real estate attorney, is the director of District 8 officials. They call games in Berkeley, Dorchester, Colleton and Beaufort counties. There are 91 officials in that district and the average age is in the mid-40s.
It can be tough trying to keep up with players that seem to get faster every year.
For Brush, though, it’s still fun and something he gets excited to do every week. People often forget these guys are making pocket change to call these games. They have jobs and families and are not merely there to collect a mileage check.
These guys might just love the game, the smell of the grass and bounce of the ball more than anyone in a stadium on a given Friday night.
Brush believes that it’s a privilege to be an official. He also credits the High School League and the schools for providing security to keep the officials out of harm’s way.
Is there a general lack of respect for authority with today’s players?
Not according to Brush.
The game is one of aggression that is played with passion. Tempers might flare, pushing and shoving are inevitable and disagreements often surface. In most cases, refs can control the situation.
The words “disturbing” and “inexcusable” were used repeatedly when viewing the Texas incident. Nobody wants a high school football field to become a crime scene.
Next time you’re leaning on that fence at the football game, yell something good at that official. It might make both of you feel better.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.