Referees Blow Hot And Cold

Deb Beaupre
 (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Deb Beaupre (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Officials at games where the kids are not yet in high school come in two categories: Soft and hard. The softies are those who want to teach the kids what they did wrong — and why — while the harder ones are those who seem to want to blow and go.

The hardcore refs call everything. They love to toot their own horns — literally. They “peep-peep” every 10-15 seconds of play. One can identify a game officiated by a hardie by the crowd reaction: after a short while, all heads begin turning toward the official after any play that might be whistle-worthy.

It’s soccer season now in my house, but I suspect this applies to other sports as well.

Hardcore refs work best with other refs who are just like them — Type A rules-followers. They call the foul-error-mistake and brook little or no discussion.

Having a hard ref can make for a tense sporting experience for all involved. The action seems to go in fits and starts. Players can become agitated — then aggravated — with all the stopping and starting. Fans can get lippy.

But there are exceptions. Sometimes, having a hard ref leads to brisk, high-powered play. It can raise the level of competition on the field, which can be thrilling for spectators in the stands.

Soft refs, on the other hand, stop and bend low to chat with the kids, smiling and making them smile. They may only take 5-10 seconds to explain a call, but that time can be well spent. They put an arm on the shoulder of the kid as they explain the rule or the play. They gesture, they point and they answer questions. People on the sidelines can see the kids nodding and laughing as they move back into position.

There isn’t any tension, usually, because softies call stuff on both teams.

Softies work well with other softies. It never works to have a softie and a hardcore, but it can be fun for the fans to watch. One person drives the other person bananas every time they open their mouths. It’s just like being married, only with shinguards.

Interestingly, softies actually call everything, too, but it is less noticeable because it seems so much kinder and gentler. Until sunset, that, is.

In the soccer-watching world, sunset is when the monsters come out. It becomes instantly winter, and suddenly, nobody cares anymore about sportsmanship, building self-esteem or the score. All anyone cares about is dinner. Once it gets cold, fans slowly begin to be annoyed by — and then develop a distinct dislike for — the soft ref: “Enough already! Play on. I have a chicken to roast, a casserole to bake, a pizza to order.”

(A tangent: I have always thought that a great way to make extra money would be to sell homemade hot meals to families leaving sporting events. Did I say homemade? Forget that, man. Hot or heatable is all that would be required. Every woman I know would pay top dollar not to have to cook after 90 minutes standing outside in the freezing cold after working all day.

Here’s the menu: $25 for a pan of mac and cheese, and the pan is $10 extra. Dessert is $5 more. Per person.

Seriously, I love my friends, but I would knock someone over to be first in line. People would be hollering, “I’ll pay cash! She only has a debit card!” Others would be offering to pay a tip and others still would be counter-offering to double that.

It would get crazy fast. Some organization or enterprising young person could make a killing.)

□Anyway, there is one other sort of ref who does occasionally shows up at games. This is the ref-who-was-roped-in-at-the-last-minute. This person is indifferent to both spectator and athlete and defers to the other ref in all things; usually a high schooler or a dad not fast enough to look busy when the athletic director came up to him before the game began.

Both the hard and soft ref have qualities to admire. One gives your child valuable lessons equally emphasizing fun and improvement. The other can raise your kid’s game and get you out of there before cocktail hour is fully over. What’s not to love?

Deb Beaupre blogs and She lives in Meriden with a baseball official who is a total hardcase.