Eagle County officials: Making the calls
Eagle Valley Enterprise
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado – Someone has to make the calls and decide what is fair. Not everyone will be happy with that someone at any given time, either. The job requires a thick skin, maybe even a particular personality.
Maybe that’s why people such as Eagle Town Board member Mikel Kerst, Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll, Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu and Eagle County Emergency Manager Barry Smith make good football officials.
They are all public officials who face constant scrutiny, yet have a passionate desire to participate and serve in society.
“All of it is leadership, managing, making decisive decisions – I can’t be wishy-washy – and, like town management, I have to rely on those around me,” Shroll said, comparing his two hats. “I think all of it is people relations.”
They don’t always get the calls right but there is no doubt that they are trying their best.
“Even getting the smallest wrong call makes us feel bad, even if the crowd doesn’t notice,” Shroll said about officiating high school games. “I’ve had moments where I knew we missed a call and I take it personally. I get sick to my stomach.”
“When I know I missed a call, I think about it for a few days,” he said.
But like life, the game goes on, and the officials with the Three Rivers Football Association strive to learn from past mistakes.
“Mistakes make you better,” said Kerst, who has been a football official for 33 years. “I remember calls from 20 years ago.”
That’s why the responsibility of a referee, like the job of a public official, isn’t for everyone.
“We get complaints all day long in our jobs and we take that into Friday night games, when at least half the stadium will be booing,” Treu said. “I think the key is to always treat people with respect.”
“Being deaf helps, too,” Smith joked.
An official with the Three Rivers Football Association – which covers games in Summit, Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties – gets $54 per game. Considering that officials need to be at the game site up to two hours in advance and must travel all over the region, the financial compensation isn’t much.
“The revenue is definitely not the motivator,” Smith said.
“Usually, at the end of the season, it costs me money,” Shroll said. “But I get the best seat in the house – right behind the quarterback.”
The four men all said they do the job for a love of the game, fun and camaraderie.
“It’s a sacrifice,” Treu said. “You’ve got to have a passion for what you’re doing. The guys in it for the paycheck never laugh.”
Laughing is something this tight-knit group of officials does a lot. Treu is especially known for friendly pranks, such as hiding things in fellow officials’ bags.
“One time I found a note in a guy’s bag that said, ‘Treu, leave my stuff alone,'” Treu said with a chuckle. “They’ve learned not to leave their bags unattended.”
Besides fun, the other common draw to the job for Kerst, Shroll, Treu and Smith seems to be an underlying desire to make a difference by being an active participant.
“Being able to make a difference is part of it,” said Kerst, who has also been with the Eagle River Fire District for 23 years. “We all know when we’re making a difference, even when other people don’t.”
Kerst started officiating after high school.
“I blew my knee senior year and wasn’t able to go on to college ball,” he said. “I was sitting in my coach’s office, crying, and he said, ‘The game’s not over for you. You’re still part of the Friday nights.’ Then he handed me his old, tobacco-stained referee shirt.”
In 2010, Kerst had a special opportunity. His high school team, Wray, hosted the 1A state championship against its longtime rival, Burlington. It was the same match-up Kerst experienced as a player, only this time he was there as an official.
“There were 4,500 people in Wray that day,” Kerst said. “We got to see the impact and feel the tension. It was one of the most exciting games I’ve called.”
That’s saying something, because Kerst has officiated five or six championship games. Treu, who has called other playoff games, agreed that the game was a special one.
“The crowd was so loud I couldn’t hear my whistle,” he said.
Kerst – who is in his second term on Eagle Town Board – said the game’s outcome was bittersweet for him – Burlington beat Wray. History repeated itself.
While the men apparently take the same passion into their jobs as football officials as they do everything else, the job has changed them.
It’s changed the way they watch football, Shroll and Treu both said.
“I go to a Bronco game and I miss what happened with the ball because I was watching my zone,” Treu said. “Football has never been the same for me.”
For some, wearing the stripes would be a hefty sacrifice, but somebody’s got to do it so that the game can go on for everyone else.