Ensuring a level playing field
Local official gaining positive state reputation
More often than not, officials are usually on the negative end of fans’ conversations.
When a team is struggling to win, it is easy to criticize the men and women whose job is simply to try to ensure fair play.
For one area official, Mike Vining, that chatter falls on deaf ears. His involvement is for the youth and keeping things fair.
“For me, officiating is a way to stay close to the games,” Vining said. “As a mature official, you understand that emotions run high in games, so you try to keep an even demeanor and be fair when coaches, and even fans, are upset.”
Vining is entering his 20th season as an official, and with each year, he appreciates more the fact that he is still a part of a unique camaraderie.
For the last seven years, Vining has worn the white hat, meaning he is the lead official of a five-man football team that includes Ellis Motley, of Pierce City, umpire; Gabe Ellison, of Neosho, head linesman; David Rector, of Joplin, line judge; and Alan Dobson, of Joplin, back judge. That crew has been intact for five of those seven years and this year earned a pair of honors.
“In November, we were awarded the Class 1 state championship [football] game, [Hamilton-Penney versus Monroe City],” Vining said. “And then, we were asked to officiate the Grin Iron All-Star [football] game in June.”
Vining said that officiating crews are first rated 1 through 5 individually, and then as a unit by the football coaches. The lower a crew rates, the better the group is.
A 5 rating by a coach essentially means the official is unfit to call games. Any coach that gives an official a 5 must submit a letter explaining why he or she did so and why the official is unqualified.
A 4 rating is given to officials that are sub-varsity in expertise. A 3 means they are qualified to officiate proficiently at the varsity level.
An official with a 2 rating is qualified to officiate a playoff game, and only officials with a 1 rating are eligible to work a state championship game.
Vining said he had a personal rating of 1.7, and his crew maintained a 1.8.
“A football officiating crew is really like its own team,” Vining said. “We talk to each other before the game and at halftime, and we communicate with each other on the field. We want to get every call right, and we want the game to be smooth.”
Vining said it was a three or four year process for the group to get a state title game. As their ratings improved, so did their playoff game appearances.
When they got the call they were going to officiate a state title game, it was quite a thrill.
“When you get to state, you are guaranteed to see two teams that you haven’t officiated that year,” Vining said. “To be able to call your crew and tell them that they have one more game is what you work toward.”
Because the group had both officiated a Lamar and Monett game, they were ruled out of the Class 2 and 3 championships. They had also worked one of the Class 4 school’s quarterfinal games, meaning that they were only eligible to work the Class 1 or Class 5 title tilts.
“They had another crew that could only work the Class 5 game, so our path was set,” Vining said. “That game was the honor of a lifetime. With the two best teams in that class going at it, you want to be at the top of your game as well.”
In June, the same crew was asked if they would work the Grin Iron Classic, an all-star football game featuring the best high school seniors in southwest Missouri.
“I’ve felt very blessed this year,” Vining said. “This is why you officiate. When you go to these games, you know someone noticed you doing a good job.”