Officials use tournament to learn, build relationships

By Chris Hummer

Officials often go unrecognized and uncelebrated.

They reap their rewards quietly by doing their job well, all while establishing connections and friendships off the field – sometimes even ones that can cross hemispheres.

This is why 31 officials from 11 countries are so eager for the opportunity to take part in the IFAF Under-19 World Championship this summer. They will be part of top international football games and have the opportunity to bond with people from a multitude of different cultures.

All of which is formed from a shared occupation involving a whistle and a black and white striped uniform.

“The biggest part is always the camaraderie you develop between the officials,” said Scott McElwee, a Philadelphia native who now lives in Haddonfield, N.J., with 18 years of experience on the college level.  “Getting to meet guys and make new friends has always the best part of the officiating experience. The games are wonderful, but the friends you build up over the years are the best part.

McElwee has never officiated on the international level but is looking forward to the experience. The eight-country tournament that includes national teams from American Samoa, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Panama, Sweden and the United States runs June 30 to July 7 in Austin, Texas.

Along with the United States, officials will travel to Austin from Australia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland and Serbia.

Alex Barinaga is coming from Coral Gables, Fla. A college official for the past eight years, he will be working the World Championship for the third time and already has made strong connections through international football.

“I’m looking forward to another week with some good friends,” Barinaga said. “Bill LeMonnier (a veteran U.S. college official from Tinley Park, Ill.) and I have really developed a special relationship through international football, and I’m looking forward to seeing him. It’s really a fun time and an opportunity to build some camaraderie with people from different nations.”

It’s not just about the social aspect, however.

Officials take full advantage of their time on the field, which allows them to gain experience and shake off any rust off before the fall season.

The Under-19 World Championship uses modified NCAA rules. Changes include 12-minute quarters instead of 15 but for the most part the rules are the same.

So is the talent level.

“The speed and the athleticism of the game are a little bit better in our college football,” Barinaga said. “But you’d be surprised by the nations that participate in this. Their knowledge of the game and level of play is pretty high up.”

Both Barinaga and McElwee are looking forward to calling these games and seeing some of the best young talent in the world go head to head.

But what they will really take away from the experience is the special bonds they’ll have formed with their fellow officials on and off the gridiron.