...on One Official's Confessions
I have been officiating wrestling matches since my high school days. My scholastic coaches had me referee inter-squad wrestle-offs because I seemed to have a knack for officiating the mat sport.
In 1973, I became a registered official in West Virginia for the first time. During that same year, I was coaching wrestling at Wheeling Central High School. I gave up officiating when I began coaching the mat sport in 1976 at the newly consolidated Wheeling Park High School.
After an exciting and successful four seasons of coaching at Park (ten years coaching in all), I decided to hang up the wrestling room whistle to devote full-time to refereeing the sport I love. I thought I would revolutionize officiating in the area of officiating.
What I really learned, in some ways, taught me the realities of human nature, which humbled me. Allow me to explain.
My forte as a referee is multi-faceted. First off, I had a subtle understanding of who has or doesn't have control in very unusual match predicaments. Secondly, I had an acute sense for out-of-bounds situations, and how to make the correct call. Finally (and you can ask any coach), I was consistent but more importantly, I was fair.
Now for my weakness - and that of all mat officials: STALLING! Like the "balk" in baseball, "traveling" in basketball, and "holding" in football, stalling is such a very subjective call. As for myself, regarding stalling, I would classify myself a moderate to conservative. But the important point is - I was consistent.
So what have I learned over the years as a wrestling official? Well, no matter how many tough (but right) calls I have made over the years, somebody was upset, accusing Bill Welker of cheating or costing their wrestler the match. It didn't bother me a bit; it comes with the stripes.
What does intrigue me is the irrationality of human nature. These same people completely forgot all the mistakes their wrestlers made throughout the bout. Instead they only took into consideration my final decision. Thus it was perceived that I, alone, decided the match. But such is an element of our human nature, which I fully understand.
No matter how much we might know about something, all of us blunder in various facets of our lives, even the great ones. You need only study history and the military miscalculation of America's most beloved Civil War general at Gettysburg- Robert E. Lee - to realize what I am saying.
As for myself, I learned that I was not infallible. Yes, I have made mistakes (as officials in all sports do), but they have always been errors of judgment, and not of integrity.
Because yours truly has no egocentric qualms, I want to share with you one of my biggest blunders as a wrestling referee that occurred years ago.
As some of you might know, I am the WV State Rules Interpreter and Clinician, as well as the supervisor of officials during the WV State Wrestling Championships. I have held this position since 1989. I have also been the rules interpreter of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference's "all-classes" wrestling tournament for nearly 25 years. Finally, I serve on the National Federation of High School Associations' national wrestling rules committee.
With that said, permit me to share with my readers an instance in which I lost concentration, and failed in my duties as an official. The indiscretion took place in Wheeling, WV at the Park Duals years ago.
In all wrestling tournaments, fatigue often envelopes the wrestling referee during those lengthy afternoon sessions. This was the case for yours truly while officiating my fourth dual meet of the day. Here's what happened.
As I was overseeing the 160 pound weight class, both wrestlers were in the neutral position. Wrestler A attempted a spin behind. At that point, I became fixated on Wrestler B's throat where Wrestler A placed his lower right arm as he spun around his opponent, scoring a takedown.
But I didn't award the points because I was still watching Wrestler B's throat. For five seconds, I was in a "fatigue trance" which we in the officiating ranks call "brain dead." Before I could award the points, Wrestler B spun out of the situation, as both wrestlers careened out of bounds, and the takedown no longer existed. It was too late to award any points.
I messed up.
Immediately, Wrestler A's coach approached the score table for a conference with me. Of course, I knew exactly what he was going to ask - Why didn't you award my boy a takedown?
During those few seconds it took me to walk across the mat to the score table, many lame alibis went through my mind. What would I say to this coach?
As I approached him, I simply said, "Before you say anything, I blew the call, coach. I lost concentration for a few moments and missed the call. It's totally my fault, coach."
Not expecting my admission of guilt, the coach's only response was "Okay, ref, but don't let it happen again."
With that, he walked back to his chair and the match resumed. Nothing more was mentioned regarding the matter the rest of the dual meet.
As the old adage states, "The truth shall set you free."