Smith column: Cut the refs a little slack ... maybe
I could never work at a fast food restaurant.
This is certainly not a slight to anyone who works at one -- I have the Chick-fil-A app and my bio has "Cookout aficionado" in it. My first job was in the food service as a busboy and dishwasher at Captain Jerry's Seafood in Fayetteville.
While that was a stressful environment during busy hours, nothing compares to the lunch and dinner rush at fast-food places. We take their work for granted at times, especially when your order is wrong. It's a madhouse and mistakes happen on occasion. Human nature, right?
The same philosophy can apply to referees.
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a ref with Bryan Hanks at a Northwest Elementary School "Teachers vs. Alumni" charity game, which doubled as one of the toughest assignments I've ever had in Kinston. Aside from the pressure of trying to remember countless signs, keeping an eye on all 10 players and using judgment (and let's not forget running up and down the floor), I didn't know how to block out criticism.
Writing a story? No problem. Doing it as a ref? Completely different tale.
And this was just a charity game.
The pressure is intensified in high school sports across the area, especially when it comes to hostile environments. It takes courage to not be affected by the fans, eschewing bias to make the right call. There are going to be mistakes, yes, but the average Joe can't pull it off. Trust me, I've tried.
With my recent story about local refs David Grimes and Leo Lockhart, it makes me have even more respect for refs. As fans, we have the advantage to kick back and watch the game.
As a writer, my focus is on flow, big plays and talking to the main entities after the contest. The officials have to be accountable for every person on the court or field, run toward the right positions (with no breaks) and still make the calls.
If this was football, referees would be the offensive linemen of the group: no credit when you're doing good, but make a mistake and everyone knows who you are. It's a thankless job, but they're unsung heroes in a sense.
Don't get it twisted: I've still seen some terrible officiating at times, especially the last school year. North Lenoir was definitely the victim of several bad calls late in the Hawks' 2017 football season opener against Bunn in a 31-30 loss, a defeat which later directly cost the team a second straight playoff appearance.
The third varsity basketball meeting between Kinston and Greene Central, one determining the No. 1 seed in the NCHSAA Eastern 2A playoffs, fans were treated to numerous missed orders throughout. Both teams could make legitimate gripes and I definitely heard it for weeks and months on end.
Then in the softball season, South Lenoir was definitely affected by calls so dubious early against Washington I could've figured them out. A couple mistakes here and there are defensible, but all three examples were beyond me.
My challenge for myself is to ease up on ref critique. I'm not expecting the same for a couple mistakes from the masses, but I am saying there is a lot of pressure these guys are under to ensure we have a good experience at a game. Teams still have to execute (something officials can't control) and I'm just asking everyone to be a little cognizant.
Then again, if you ask for a double burger tray at Cookout with a blueberry milkshake and get a chicken quesadilla with Cheerwine, go off. I don't blame you.