An eye on the ball

Senior becomes referee for middle school and high school sporting events


Senior Eli Gillard poses with his father, who is also an umpire, while officiating. Photo contributed

Charlie LaRocca, Staff Writer

The referee plays an important role in the contest of a sporting event. They must carry out and enforce the rules, maintain the safety of the players and take disciplinary actions against any player deemed harmful to the integrity of the game or the health of other participants. The referee is the judge, the jury and the executioner. But over the last few years, the number of people fulfilling this role has steadily declined. Thousands of youth and high school referees have quit the job, leaving many athletic competitions starved for officials. With this shortage, Eli Gillard, an 18-year-old senior, has found himself a wealth of opportunities in the profession. 

Gillard became a referee for middle school and high school sports, particularly basketball, softball and baseball recently, but his love for athletic competition has spanned his entire life.

“I enjoyed the love of the game from when I played growing up,” Gillard said. “I never really thought of the officials working the game.” 

Gillard’s passion as a referee began with his father, who had been refereeing softball and basketball games for many years before Gillard decided to join him. 

“The first time I did this was two years ago in a fall-ball softball tournament,” Gillard said. “He [Gillard’s father] needed help with a game, so I went with him, and I fell in love with just being there and all the fun I had.” 

However, his first outing as a professional referee was equal parts enjoyable and stressful. 

“I always second-guessed myself and looked for approval from coaches and fans, almost like I needed them to tell me if I made the right call or not,” Gillard said. “I was quite nervous, but as the game kept going on, I started to get a little more comfortable.”

Since then, Gillard’s skill as the one in charge of the game has only grown. 

“I started getting more confident and not worrying about what people thought and just being confident and firm in my calls,” Gillard said.

Confidence is not the only thing that refereeing has reinforced in Gillard. He attributes a myriad of life skills to his time as a referee, such as high-intensity decision making, good work ethic and patience. 

As he continues to work in the refereeing field, Gillard has greater aspirations than middle school and high school competition.

“I am hoping to get into college with the shortage they have,” Gillard said. 

Gillard said that while refereeing wasn’t necessarily “challenging,” people interested in pursuing work as a referee should be sure to come prepared. 

“Be presentable, be on time and look and act professional for the kids, coaches and parents,” Gillard said. “You will get more respect looking professional and acting professional, and when coaches ask a question, give them a professional answer.” 

Gillard also made it very clear that the profession is not just about the money.

“You’re not out there for yourself or for the money,” Gillard said. “I was doing a softball tournament, and a 10U player came up to me and said ‘You’re my favorite umpire. Are you going to umpire my game?’ I just laughed and said ‘this is what it’s all about. It’s for the kids.’”