Extra Points: Brian Spano 4/4

Brian Spano

By Brian Spano PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: April 4, 2013 - 11:21 AM

As a high school football reporter, you have to be unbiased when you cover so many teams. That comes into play even when you get the rare opportunity of sitting in on a game of your alma mater. When you've been doing this for such a long time, and that passion for doing it still burns, you develop relationships with coaches and players, but that never impedes on the job we have to do as reporters: Tell the story.
Oh sure, I may find myself rooting a little for all the Kansas City-area teams at the state championship games against the St. Louis teams, but I'd never admit that out loud. My job is to relay the details of the game as a neutral party. Think of me on the same side as the officiating crew, but only without all the rules and regulations.
It's funny how both officials and the media are sometimes looked upon as the so-called bad guys. Officials get a bum rap from fans, coaches and players when they make a bad call or make a call that simply isn't, let's just say, popular with one side of the field.
Sometimes the media and officials might get treated like North Korea, but in reality we're just Switzerland. We're not out to get anybody. We just want to be friends without really taking any sides. But I'll get into some of the crazy things officials have experienced on the field in a minute.
I have one rule I try to follow when I head out on Friday nights: never wear the colors of either team playing. So if I'm on my way to Blue Springs/Blue Springs South, no, I won't be donning any purple or green and blue. If I'm pacing the sidelines of a Blue Valley/Blue Valley Southwest game, I'll be staying away from the black and gold or green.
Well, I unknowingly violated that rule in a game last season during a Center/University Academy contest. There was a threat of rain that night, and I own a lightweight blue and yellow rain jacket. Guess the colors of the Center Yellowjackets.
At halftime of that game, I was standing on the sideline, and the intermission was nearly over. Center had not yet returned to the field. The referee was nearby. He turned to me and said, "You better get your team to the field or they're going to get flagged for delay of game."
It was at that moment I realized my blunder. I'm much more vigilant now.
During the games, I don't normally carry on conversations with any of the officiating crew. I know their job is tough enough with the pressure of the game itself. But I did have the opportunity to speak with Phil Parrino who has been officiating games for the past 27 years in some capacity. He has served as an umpire in the majority of the games he's worked, so you'll see him standing some five to seven yards behind the defensive line when the ball is snapped.
He's pretty much seen it all.
Several years ago while working a playoff game at St. Pius X High School, he and the rest of the crew were running off the field at halftime toward the room that is adjacent to the concession stand, so they have to work their way through the crowd.
"As I was approaching, we were running into the room, and when you do that, you want to get to there as fast as you can and avoid the crowd," Parrino said. "There was a relative that had a son that was playing for St. Pius, and several of the family members were there in the stands. They saw me on the field, and as I was coming in, they stopped me and gave me a hug and peck on the cheek. You know, it's kind of a tradition in Italian families to do that, and that was kind of an embarrassing moment because it was such a big game, and there were people around from the other team. The crew I was with jokingly gave me a hard time about it."
But that may not compare to the experience he had in Concordia. This epitomizes small-town football on a Friday night.
"It was about halfway through the third quarter in the game, and all of a sudden, the guy that refs with us that was on the sideline, blew his whistle and came running in," he said. "You figure when the whistle blows from there, it's probably offsides or encroached on the defense. What happened was the three guys working the chain gang were all the ambulance drivers in town for the hospital, and they got a call in the middle of the game. They dropped the chains and just left."
Parrino has witnessed kids in the huddle argue amongst themselves and once saw a running back say he didn't want to run the ball anymore because no one was blocking for him. He's seen a coach get thrown out on the first play of the game. He's had coaches yell at him for an entire game. But there's a reason he's been doing this for 27 years.
"These officials work really hard to get the rules down and do the best they can," Parrino said. "Every crew I've been on has taken a lot of pride in that. You learn through the years and try to remember how much work the coaches and kids put into this. For the coaches anymore, this is a 12-month job for them. Everyone of them is competitive. They want to win and they really work hard at practice. You really try to do the best you can."
And that's all any of us are doing, the best we can for a game we love so much.
Brian Spano is a Senior Writer for PrepsKC.