Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . .
During the fall of 1979 I came to a crossroads in my life. My mother kicked me out of my house at the age of 15 years old for being a constant, and sometimes violent, disruption in the lives of other family members.
I was angry and headed down a “bad road.” I spent time on the streets and some time in a halfway house before my grandparents decided at their older ages to take me in. The only condition that my Grandparents had was that I needed to stop smoking marijuana and stay in school.
During my freshman year in high school I signed a sports contract at my school. The contract with my signature said I would not use illegal substances. When I signed my name I honored those rules and did not use them during the season. After moving in with my Grandparents it became very clear that I was not dropping out of high school. During a sit down with them and teachers and coaches, my wrestling coach called me into the wrestling room at my high school. His words were harsh and cruel but it was what I needed to hear. I needed a “kick in the ass” and that is what I got.
During my sophomore year I failed off of the wrestling team and was done for the year. The future was very dark once again. My Grandparents were very distraught and my wrestling coach was livid. Despite being so disappointed and let down he would not give up on me. He stayed on my back throughout my entire sophomore year making sure that I passed all of my classes so that I stayed on track for graduation. At the time graduation seemed so far off and unimportant but he was not giving up on me.
My junior year started out great as I was winning matches against kids that I probably should not be beating. Two weeks before the regional championships I once again failed off of the team for the year. I still think about how much I let the team down but more so my coach who had been there for me every step of the way for three years. Coach could have kicked me to the curb after letting him down once again.Many coaches would have done so to kids like that. He would not do anything of the sort.
Before the start of my senior year season I was elected Captain of the wrestling team along with another senior. We had several seniors who should have beaten me out and after talking to them many said that they did not vote for me. My coach who I had let down on so many occasions overrode the voting of the team and chose me. To this day I am not sure why he did that, putting his own reputation on the line as far as the team was concerned. As a senior I managed to finish the season and ended up placing 4th at the Class A State Championships.
I tell you this story because it is the reason that I chose to become a high school wrestling official. Upon graduation I reflected on the people who assisted me in making positive changes in my life. Of course my Grandparents were the single biggest support as far as family structure but the one person who was always in my corner despite me constantly letting him down was my wrestling coach. He would not give up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself at times.
I decided to “give back” to the sport that literally saved my life. There is no way that I would be where I am today without high school athletics especially wrestling and the man who saved my life.
After graduation in 1981--yes I did indeed graduate--I took the wrestling courses, passed the national exam, passed my mat test at a tournament, and did my year of probationary officiating in order to officiate high school wrestling in Maine.
I went on to graduate from The University Of Maine Farmington and have been teaching and coaching at the high school level for 34 years. I have coached many state champions in both wrestling and outdoor track and field at the high school level.
As I roll along here into 2022 it has been 40 years that I have been officiating and coaching high school wrestling. I have officiated state tournaments and New England qualifiers. Some years when I was coaching I continued to officiate middle school matches just to keep my eye sharp and knowledge base the best it could be.
I have been both the coaches and officials liaison to the MPA Wrestling Committee. I was President of the Maine Interscholastic Wrestling Officials Association from 2019-2021.
I sit and think often as I age about why I still continue to officiate high school wrestling despite getting cortisone shots in my knee to keep on going. The back and body never feel good after a long Saturday tournament. Sunday is literally a day of recovery during the winter months.
The answer: I made a commitment 40 years ago to give back to a sport that without it I am certain that I would not be here today. I give back to the sport and the kids, some of whom may be on the same journey that I traveled.
I may never know if I made a difference in kids' lives. That does not matter. Just like I committed to staying clean all four years while under a contract I stay committed to my promise to give back. At some point the end will come and I will have to leave my shoes in the center circle. That day is much closer today than 40 years ago but I will stay in the game as long as I feel that the kids are safe on the mat and the coaches keep picking me for post season work.
I have been incredibly lucky from where I came from. It has been a constant learning experience and I have met and worked with some wonderful kids and adults. I don’t regret one minute of giving back.
~ Shawn M. Guest; Woolwich
If you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life.
Leaving high school I was in a position of really enjoying sports, but not skilled enough to play at the Division I collegiate level where I was attending school. While still having a big interest in sports, I felt officiating was a great way to still be involved in athletics, all while being able to make a little money and have the best seat in the house for a game.
I chose to take on two different sports to officiate (basketball and baseball), and within a short period of time it had changed from a part-time job to a passion that I couldn't get enough of.
I tailored my college course schedule to allow me to work the two sports all four years of college and I enjoyed very much each time a new season began.
After college I continued working both sports, as my employer supported my involvement within the two officiating organizations I was a part of. As time has gone on, I have developed some very close friendships with those that I have officiated with and I have met some really great people in and among the schools that I have visited (coaches, athletic administrators, trainers, etc.).
I would not know many of these individuals had I not had the experiences that I had. As I look back at all the experiences I've had officiating, I can truly say that those experiences have made me a better person and have helped me greatly in my full-time profession as an educator.
~ Nick Raymond; Hampden
The places you'll go and the people you'll meet
In the summer after I graduated high school I was approached by my former field hockey coach asking if I would be interested in officiating field hockey. After some thought, I figured it would be a great way to stay connected to the game that I had played for the previous twelve years. Being a college athlete wasn’t something that I felt the need to do, so instead I have spent my time officiating.
Being an official has been better than I could have thought. It was something to get me out of the dorm rooms and away from homework. It also provided me with an income while in school. But more than anything else it was a great way to connect with people that also cared a lot about the game of field hockey. I initially became an official for a side job but I stayed an official because of the community.
~ Emily Nyman Waterville
You never know who may be watching . . . Or what they may be learning.
I started traveling to high school football games with my dad when he was officiating games. He worked the field for 40 years. I really enjoyed watching him referee games and it began there. I always admired him being on the field and was so proud to know my dad was working State Championship games.
Then when I got into high school, the Athletic Director at my high school was John Coughlin and he was umpiring college baseball games. I would sit in his office and talk about the games he worked each weekend.
He worked Oklahoma St. , Miami, and North Carolina when they came to play at UMaine. It all started for me with those 2 mentors. I watched the attention to the details they put into officiating and it molded me right from the beginning. Nothing out of place and everything just as clean and neat as possible!! Every time I get ready for a game and go onto the field I think of them.
~ Jeff Mertzel; Winthrop
Stay a part of the game you love.
Field Hockey has been my favorite sport since 7th grade. After playing Division I Field Hockey at The University of Maine, I wanted to still be active with the sport so I started officiating a year after graduating. I coached for 17 years after that, then became a soccer mom for four years. I realized that I really missed the sport, so joined the officiating ranks again and have officiated since.
~ Trisha Moulton; Abbot
Be the change you want to see . . .
I was a competitive cheerleader throughout high school and went on to cheer at the University of Maine as well. I have loved the sport my entire life and didn't want it to end after I graduated. I coached Varsity and then decided my reason passion was in officiating. This experience has been very gratifying as competitive cheer has changed dramatically over the years and I've been a big part of those changes here in Maine.
~ Susan Hartnett, Brunswick
If you're not part of the solution . . .
"I had an issue with a umpire in a game ,complained to the president of local ASA softball board, he told me go to one of the meetings, I did like what i was hearing, I've done major tournaments locally and nationally. I've met lots of great fellow officials which I can call my friends. It's a fraternity through which I have gained lots of life lessons I apply to everyday situations."
~ Anthony Gowell; Lewiston
A friend in need, is a friend indeed.
In 1981, a friend of mine asked me to help him referee basketball at the local YMCA. He was a certified IAABO basketball official.
After a few weeks of games, he suggested that I go to the clinics and take the test to become certified. I passed the test. The first 3 years were pretty rough, because I wasn’t very good, but I stayed with it.
I took time off when my daughter was born, but came back to the game as soon as I could. My goal and my challenge going into every game at every level is to be perfect. I’ve never been perfect, but it isn’t for lack of trying. I love the game and hope people will follow me, take my place, tough it out and give kids the joy of basketball, called well!
My softball story is shorter. When my daughter started Little League we had a very hard time finding officials. Of course, I stepped forward.
My daughter was 9. She is now 27 and I’m still doing softball, though as a certified official now. The softball board of officials is great, but we’re beginning to see a lot of umpires age out. It’s a really fun sport to do, and there are plenty of opportunities!
~ Dan Baker; South Portland
A Lifetime of passion for sports officiating.
I participated in sports as a youth and as a adult so as I grew beyond my playing days I added officiating to the sport to stay in touch with the sport and all it brings from making new friends with the current Athletes as well as my fellow officials.
My officiating has spanned from local to national level. I always felt the need for good officials and I wanted to be one of the good ones so that the athletes and coaches were participating in a fair environment.
I started many years ago in the 70s complaining as a coach that the officials were bad, so one of my commissioners who I was complaining to said to me " why don't you become an official and improve the caliber of officiating...so I did. He said to me "Be a part of the solution for improving officiating not just a complainer".
Later I moved into the leadership of managing and recruiting officials so they could enjoy the sport as I did. I was fortunate to have honed my skills as a softball official and was rewarded by being chosen to officiate at a National Men's Industrial softball Tournament. I was participating in a National tournament with some of the Best Athletes in the game; it was rewarding as well as Fun.
I coached swimming for many years but became an official to help as they had a shortage. I eventually learned I enjoyed officiating the sport I loved so much as a swimmer and coach and was rewarded by working at HS and National College Division I and III championships. Later in life (in my 60s and now 70s).
I retired and found I missed participating in sports so I decided to try my hand at officiating Volleyball, due to the urging of a friend. They have a great need for new officials as the sport is growing rapidly in MAINE. I knew I would get good training and mentorship along with my proven willingness to learning the sport from rules to mechanics to becoming a good official.
This is not a sport I participated in nor knew much about but thought it would be interesting to go and check it out. Its an amazing sport and yes I have lots to learn to becoming a better official but I find the experienced officials and coaches are very helpful in allowing you to grow with time and experience. Every time I officiate a match I learn how to be better and that's all most expect from you.
All sports have a need for good officiating to insure the teams, athletes and coaches get the fairest environment in their contest with each other. I have always felt I'm part of a team(the officials team) and our job was to make sure the participants got a fair and enjoyable experience from their athletic endeavors.
Tom Nelson; South Portland