Aspiring officials get schooled on NFL rules

The vast majority of people learn best by having something explained to them, followed by a demonstration and then being allowed the opportunity to actually have hands-on experience.

The National Football League is doing that with their 2013 Football Officials Academy, which is based this year in St. Clairsville. In addition to those sessions, there have been, or will be, special on-the-field sessions in Berea, Wellsville and Bethany College.

Recently, a select group of the future officials had the opportunity to take part in the NFL’s Top 100 which showcased some of the nation’s top high school players from approximately 20 different states. During this event at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, these aspiring officials shadowed NFL instructors and other game-day personnel, learning positioning, enforcing the rules and communicating with players and coaches.

NFL Replay Communicator Jay Kiger, who is the director of the local Academy explained, “When we have them in the classroom sessions, we cover the rules, enforcement, and decorum. But, you can’t replicate on the field situations in a classroom. It’s important to get out on the field. That’s what we’re doing with these special nights and also weather-permitting, as part of our regular sessions in St. Clairsville.”

The Assistant Principal at East Liverpool High School, Kiger has been the impetus behind having the 2012 Academy at East Liverpool and this year’s at St. Clairsville.

This coming week, the young officials will get the chance to make their own calls during a passing scrimmage at Wellsville’s Nicholson Stadium.

Entering his sophomore year at West Virginia University, Steven Murray, a 2012 Oak Glen graduate said, “It’s nice to actually be on the field getting first-hand experience. This is too good of an opportunity to pass up. I never thought I would get the chance to be on a football field again.”

Local teacher Ryan Willis, who lives in Chester, said, “I have always been interested in sports; anything that’s competitive. This is a chance to learn from the best of the best, that’s what finally pushed me to enroll.”

“We have been doing the Academies for four years now,” said NFL Director of Officiating David Coleman. “This is our fourth year in the New York City area, and our second year here in the Ohio Valley. We had a very good session last year at East Liverpool and thus far this year at St. Clairsville. We are using the same program in Brooklyn that we are here.”

Coleman has been a frequent visitor and participant in the Academy’s sessions, making the commute from NFL headquarters in New York.

“This represents the entry level for officials. We want to encourage overall participation in officiating,” said Coleman. “We are teaching them to communicate, act decisively and confidently handle conflict resolution with coaches and players.”

Former East Liverpool football and basketball standout Rob Green, who has coached youth football and basketball, as well as high school basketball, is hoping to use the knowledge that he gains to benefit local athletes.

“I feel that this is something that I want to do. I realize that if we have well-trained officials for our youngsters at the lower level, it will help the youth programs in the area, said Green, who played four years of Division II college basketball. “With a background as a player and coach, I have an understanding of what is expected of officials and I want to do my best to be a good official.”

Nick DaLonzo, a 2012 Wellsville graduate is gaining an appreciation of what it takes to be an official.

“It felt strange not being on the football field last year after playing for so many years. I’m getting a good foundation in what it takes to be a competent official, said DaLonzo, who will be a sophomore at The Ohio State University this fall. “I hope that I do a good job.”

The Academy class is slated to officiate at one, and possibly two, practice sessions at Bethany College in the coming weeks as the Ohio and West Virginia squads prep for the Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Football Game on July 28, at Wheeling Island Stadium.

Graduation will be held during halftime of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, August 4, at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.