MOUNT VERNON — As Colt football playoffs begin this weekend, there will be the usual crunching of pads, the clapping from coaches, the cheering from parents and fans. But for one team, there are few fans, and even fewer cheers.
John Corbett is a referee and crew chief. On this day, as he has done every week during football season for the past three years, he will head a team of three officials to keep the peace on a 100-yard stretch of field at Mount Vernon High School.
A retired computer programmer, Corbett began his officiating career in 1968. He was strictly a baseball umpire for years, including a stint in the minor leagues in the 1970s. Later, he officiated nearly every team sport at the scholastic level. His first job as a football referee was 20 years ago. He fell in love with the job immediately.
“Football is my favorite. I feel like I’m involved in every play. As a referee, you’re in charge with managing the game. I enjoy that aspect of it,” Corbett said.
As a certified official in the state of Ohio, he is qualified to officiate virtually any sport. But he goes out of his way to play referee to Colt football.
“I do a lot of traveling. I have my roots at that level. I coached there for awhile. It takes me back,” Corbett said.
Every team has its fans, and its detractors. This isn’t true for the referee. He doesn’t hear his fans. He doesn’t get applause. Instead, there can be boos and insults. But a referee learns how to keep this from having any effect. Especially one who officiates everything from colt football to high school.
“On a Friday night, because of the overall crowd noise, you don’t hear any one person very often,” Corbett said. “But at a smaller level, you can hear everything.”
Corbett says he’s more concerned with earning the respect of the players and the coaches.
“They aren’t always pleased with what we do either. That’s part of the game,” Corbett said.
This can be all too true. In last Sunday’s game between the Big Vikings and the Big Cowboys, coaches and fans made their opinions heard throughout.
“That’s an illegal defense, ref!”
“He kneed him in the head! Come on!”
“Where’s the call, ref?”
All on consecutive plays.
“You’re never going to please the fans, so you have to just grin and bear it,” Corbett said.
Not to pick on the fans and coaches of the Big Vikings nor the Big Cowboys. Similar shouts could be heard in every game on this day. And in last week’s games. And the week before that. Sometimes Corbett was the referee. Sometimes it was somebody else. It didn’t matter. It was a man in a black and white stripped shirt. So he was the target.
“The best way to deal with the fans is to ignore them. As soon as you acknowledge them, they’ll know they’re getting under your skin,” Corbett said.
Coaches, however, can’t be ignored. They’re a part of the game, and as a referee, Corbett has to acknowledge them.
“If a coach has a complaint about a call, I’ll try to listen to him. But when he gets personal, that’s when I have to draw the line,” Corbett said.
A lot of the problems, he says, come from knowledge of the game.
“We have more problems at the lower levels, really because of the experience of the coaches. Sometimes you’ll get a coach (at a lower level) who’s just a volunteer, and who’s just there because his kid’s playing,” Corbett said.
“But there are exceptions. So I try to be patient and treat them all equally,” he added.
Corbett will be there once again this Sunday, when the first round of Colt football playoffs take place. Once again, he likely won’t get any cheers. He won’t get applause. He won’t sign autographs. He’s a Colt football referee. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.