Friedman was excited about the idea of becoming a referee. At the age of 27 in 1963, he did just that. Today, 84-year-old Friedman is one of the oldest civil servants in the area.
Friedman has held dozens of Catholic Sports Conference championships in Maryland and Washington. He’s watched players – from Chuck Foreman (Frederick) to Stefon Diggs (Good Counsel) – dominate high school before they hit the NFL. He even retired three years ago before returning to the field without wasting time the following season.
For the first time in 57 seasons, Friedman is spending his fall on Friday night somewhere other than a soccer field after the novel coronavirus pandemic wiped out in the Washington area earlier this season. The health crisis has left referees who devoted their Friday to football and pondered when to return in a safe environment.
When the coronavirus hit the United States that winter, Friedman pondered what his work at the Washington District Football Officials Association would look like this fall. He wondered how referees would use their whistles with face masks. He wondered if the schools would refurbish the rooms where the officials meet before the game. He asked if the soccer ball would be cleaned between games.
Not only was he worried about his own safety, but he also feared bringing the virus back to his wife Rosalyn, 76, at their Rockville home. During the summer, Maryland, Virginia and the district moved the fall season to spring. Not sure if he will be part of the modified season.
“Would I like to be out there? Absolutely, ”said Friedman, who also worked as a full-time financial advisor for 50 years. “But you have to do what you have to do and you have to protect yourself and your family. This is the most important thing now. “
In the past few years, Friedman arrived at a local high school soccer field 90 minutes before kick-off. He would examine the condition of the lawn, meet with other officials, take off his suit, and tie and put on his uniform. He would step out onto the field 30 minutes before the end, greet the coaches, and make sure the players were legally dressed. He made the mechanics of the pregame coin a science.
For the next two and a half hours, Friedman was involved in the action, standing behind the quarterback at every game. He heard screams and pads crashing, his hands moving between the soccer ball, his whistle and his nylon penalty flag.
This fall, Friedman’s hands usually reach for a crime thriller or the TV remote control on Friday evenings. It’s a relaxing place, but it lacks the rush that it’s got used to.
“The majority of the officers, all of them are hired,” Friedman said. “They love what they do. To give up two or three hours in the evening and deal with all the temperatures and weather conditions and everything else, you have to be … committed. “
While Friedman has not yet decided whether he will officiate the games when they resume, other local umpires were more certain as the pandemic began.
Josephus Perry, 70, also works for the WDFOA. He decided in March that he would not officiate until the pandemic passed. Perry said he had high blood pressure and diabetes.
In the first game Perry ran in 2000, he recalled a clear touchdown in a matchup in Montgomery County and regretted it seconds later when the fans booed. Fortunately, the home team scored two games later. His initial taste of the exam is something to laugh about years later.
Toni Morgan, DC Interscholastic Athletic Association umpire, can refer to this criticism as one of the only female umpires in the region. She grew up with Co-Ed and Flag Football. She started officiating 23 years ago and has loved building relationships with teenagers that went beyond graduation.
She said her husband, Phillip, had sarcoid, an inflammatory disease. While worried about his health, she can’t imagine sitting outside saying she’ll be a referee when the games return.
On a standard Fall Friday, Morgan leaves her Upper Marlboro home at around 7:30 a.m. to work for the Federal Reserve and doesn’t return home until around 11 p.m. after taking office. Morgan’s husband is HD Woodson’s sporting director, so they would have a lot of football news to review when they got home from their respective games.
Morgan, 57, usually ran three games a week, including college and junior varsity games, and rarely had the opportunity to catch up on sleep.
“Nothing to do during the week,” said Morgan, “it gets kind of fun because I’m used to being busy all the time.”
Studies have shown that older age groups are at higher risk of suffering from the coronavirus. The majority of the umpires are between 40 and 70, local league commissioners said, which means some of the officials could be at high risk.
All local reigning associations said they will be putting up a leaner baton for a spring season, as a handful of referees sign off in each association. Some states that will play soccer this fall – including Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – are suffering from a lack of referees.
Billy Haun, director of the Virginia High School League, noted that the VHSL had been dealing with a lack of referees even before the coronavirus. Even so, all of the local association officials believe that they will deploy enough referees to allow games to take place. You can change the schedules or the number of officials available for each game.
Commissioners are discussing precautions for the return of football in the spring, such as: For example, the use of battery-operated whistles that referees can trigger with their hands, whistling behind a referee’s mask, the use of face shields or the ban on referees’ access to schools.
“It all depends on how eager January it is,” said Larry Kendrick, commissioner for the Northern Virginia Football Officials Association. “We do not know it. That changes every month. “
In the meantime, some referees are watching movies about past games to see how they can improve their decision-making. They say they don’t officiate for the money – umpires notice they get paid between $ 50 and $ 100 per high school game – but because they enjoy it and want to give back to their communities.
That passion is still strong for Friedman at an age where many referees are poised for retirement. However, as long as the coronavirus spreads across the country, Friedman doesn’t know when the work will be safe.
He’s stuck on the sidelines more than five decades after his last stay – and this time there is no weekly walk to the fields that would shape his life.