President makes the calls
November 22 2002 by John Pierce , Baptists Today

President makes the calls | Friday, Nov 22, 2002

Friday, Nov 22, 2002

President makes the calls

By John Pierce Baptists Today

WINGATE - It is Friday afternoon and the end of a typically stressful week for the president of Wingate University, a N.C. Baptist school outside Charlotte. Like most leaders who juggle multiple tasks, Jerry McGee is looking forward to a weekend away from institutional demands.

Unlike most collegiate executives, however, McGee's idea of "getaway" involves wearing a striped shirt, blowing a whistle and tossing a yellow flag.

"When you have a job as high stress as mine, it is good to have an outlet," McGee said, a veteran football official for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). "It kind of takes a load off me."

However, McGee does not minimize the challenge he faces each Saturday when the calls he makes - or doesn't make - could determine whether a team of student athletes and thousands of fans go home happy or sad.

As a field judge, McGee is responsible for keeping a close eye on the lightning-fast receivers and defensive backs intent on catching an airborne pass. He must pay rapt attention to every move and be quick enough to get in position to make the correct call.

"My shoes weigh 300 pounds each," he said as the clock ticked down the final seconds of a rain-soaked game between the Clemson Tigers and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

His hyperbole aside, it is a strenuous job that calls for running a total of seven to eight miles each game. And in McGee's position, most of that running is backward.

"It makes for strong legs," McGee said, who faithfully starts each morning with 30-45 minutes of running on a treadmill while watching game film. That exercise is followed by sprints.

The payoff has been good, however, he said. It keeps him in shape, lets him stay involved with sports and provides an unusual source of stress release.

"It's great to be my age and still be a part of college football," McGee said. The 57-year-old is in his 30th year of collegiate officiating.

It all started with intramural football in college. The $4 per day for calling two games came in handy.

After returning home to Rockingham, McGee quickly moved through the ranks of junior high, high school and small college officiating. In 1980 he was enlisted by the ACC and worked 11 seasons before going to the Big East Conference for seven years. He rejoined the ACC four years ago.

McGee admits that such a physically and mentally demanding task is not the best form of relaxation for most people. But for him, it works.

"I'm not the president of Wingate University when I'm out there," he said. "I'm just the guy in a striped shirt."

"Your concentration has to be so exact," he added. "You have to block everything else out and concentrate on the football game."

McGee said his wife used to say that he is the only person she knew who could hide in front of 80,000 people - not to mention the larger television audience. His role as a football official also helped McGee work through the tremendous grief he faced when his wife died unexpectedly in 1999.

"For the first 27 years (of officiating), I thought college football needed me," McGee said. "The last few years, I've needed football. Having football in 1999 was very therapeutic for me."

McGee found much needed support from his fellow officials during that difficult time. The teamwork required for competent officiating leads to close relationships among the officials, he said.

McGee also said he gets a kick out of reactions from those who learn of his dual roles as university president and college football official. Players are usually "stunned" to discover that the guy who just flagged them for a 15-yard penalty is actually head of a Baptist university, he said.

The response from Wingate students is often one of surprise as well. He knows many of them - especially the football players - watch him on television whenever their schedules permit.

"They love it when I get knocked down or something," McGee said, who has suffered a broken ankle and cracked sternum, but "nothing serious" during his three-decade career.

"And I have a big Super Bowl party for the students in the Wingate University student center every year," he said, who dons his uniform to host 250 student guests.

McGee knows that he cannot continue officiating forever and looks to his sons for help in letting him know when to give it up. But for now he loves the challenge as much as ever - and it is a challenge.

"Players are so much quicker, bigger and stronger," McGee said. "Their athleticism almost defies belief."

Because of such, McGee uses a wise strategy: "Wait a count or two to let your mind digest what your eyes have seen - then make the call."

He has officiated more than 300 games at the highest collegiate level including two national championships among 13 top bowl games. He has many good memories.

His favorite game to call is the annual battle between Army and Navy. "If I could only work one more game, that would be it."

So what can a veteran official tell football fans about the game that they don't already know?

Most officials, McGee said, are professional people like doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Almost all of them are "very committed churchmen," which often leads to good theological discussions during pre-game dinners on Friday nights.

He said officials don't take nearly as much grief as fans assume. The coaches, he said, are generally "good and decent human beings" and the players are quite respectful.

Sure, but what about the fans?

"When there are 80,000 people yelling at the same time, you don't really hear that much," he said.

And there's one more thing fans should know, McGee said: "Regardless of what people think, it is just a game."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - This story is reprinted from the November edition of Baptists Today.)

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
11/22/2002 12:00:00 AM by John Pierce , Baptists Today | with 0 comments
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