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Despite fans' verbal punishment, WPIAL football refs dedicated to craft

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 11:12 p.m.
A officials spot the ball during the North Allegheny-Gateway game on Friday October 5, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Referee Larry 'Bull' Croston listens, as Rochester coach Gene Matsook wants an explanation of an incomplete pass ruling during a game against Neshannock Friday October 5, 2012 in Rochester. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Field judge George Trout gets between Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb (18) and Chicago Bears' J.T. Thomas (97) during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Christopher Horner
Referee Larry 'Bull' Croston calls an off-sides penalty on Rochester during a game against Neshannock Friday October 5, 2012 in Rochester. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Referee Larry 'Bull' Croston presides over the opening coin toss between Neshannock's Alex Welker and Rochester's Alyjah Elmore Friday October 5, 2012 in Rochester. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
A referee carefully views the action of the North Allegheny-Gateway game on Friday October 5, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Angry football fans have questioned Mike Jarosinski's eyesight, and others have worried about his ability to rest, wondering how he could sleep at night? He sleeps fine.

“You ignore most of it,” he said, “and obviously you don't react to any of it.”

Bashing referees has become somewhat trendy. The tired taunts are heard by all who wear black-and-white stripes. But this season came a new barb Jarosinski had never heard. A taunt that his crew laughed off, but the sentiment had him “honked off.”

From the crowd someone shouted: “They must be replacement officials.”

Hardly. Jarosinski, like many officials overseeing WPIAL, City League and District 6 games, has walked sidelines for decades. Jarosinski has for 37 years. They're gluttons for punishment who get a little money and very little sympathy on Friday nights.

“Most guys get into it because they enjoy the game,” said Jarosinski, secretary of the Alle-Kiski Football Officials Chapter. A Springdale resident who works for Graybar Electric Company on Pittsburgh's North Side, Jarosinski is among them.

Calling them replacements would be wrong ­— with one exception.

George Trout actually was one of the NFL's replacement officials. Trout, 41, worked four preseason and four regular-season games, including two in one week. He was the field judge when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears met at Lambeau Field. This Friday he'll work the Albert Gallatin at Laurel Highlands matchup.

“It's the first time I've done a high school game in a bunch of years,” said Trout, a Penn Township resident with 23 years of experience, including six NCAA Division I FCS seasons. “There's nothing better than a Friday night Western Pennsylvania game.”

Adjusting to NFL speed was a major challenge, but the replacements did their best, said Trout, who ignored any negative media coverage. But whether you're wearing back-and-white stripes at Lambeau or Laurel Highlands, there's one fact that's undeniable.

“Officiating can be a thankless task,” he said.

For some, officiating is a way to stay connected with a sport they love. Some are former standout athletes, like Rick Druschel, who played guard for the Steelers in 1974. Some are second-generation officials such as Jarosinski, whose father also wore stripes. Or even third-generation, like Mike Burrell, 31, who followed his father and grandfather.

Nobody's getting rich on Friday nights, which pays $85 for a Class AAAA game and a little less for lower classifications. For some, officiating can become a career, but few start out with that expectation.

“When you sign your son up for pee wee football, do you hope he makes it to the NFL?” Jarosinski said. “It's kind of that same scenario. It would be great someday, but let's take one step at a time.”

Western Pennsylvania has a strong football history. It also has a strong history of football officials, with five natives currently working Sundays. Jeff and Jerry Bergman of Wexford, Gene and Tony Steratore of Washington, and Tom Stabile of Natrona Heights are NFL officials. This area also has supplied a significant number of college referees, with most or all of them having started here on the local level.

“We have a lot of guys from Western Pennsylvania who have been very successful,” said Brad Rauber, a talented official who has begun climbing the ladder. “It helps to have those guys to look up to, and be able to pick up the phone and ask them questions. They're always willing to help.”

Along with high schools, Rauber, a referee, officiates NCAA Division I FCS, and Division III under the guidance of Gene Steratore Jr., who oversees officials in the Presidents' Athletic Conference. Rauber also officiates Division I women's basketball. This weekend, he will referee Friday in Uniontown and Saturday in Kentucky for a college game at Thomas More.

Climbing the officiating ladder requires several things. The official must be skilled. They almost always need help from somebody above. They have to be willing to travel almost anywhere. And they need a very understanding family.

Jarosinski, Rauber and Burrell are members of Class AAAA crews. Similar to the way officials move from working youth games to junior high, junior varsity and varsity, those working high school games successfully often are promoted to Class AAAA.

There are 15 local chapters of officials covering WPIAL and City League football games, and they're all searching for new members to cover youth football and eventually varsity.

The PIAA has four test-taking meetings each year, but recruitment has slowed.

“We're almost in crisis mode right now,” said Rauber, 42. “When I first started officiating, I was the youngest guy there. It's been 20 years now and I'm still one of the youngest guys officiating. It's getting to be an old industry.”

The constant criticism could scare some away.

“It's not for everybody,” Trout said. “You have to have a certain mentality that you're going to get criticized. But you have to stay professional and do the best you can.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at charlan@tribweb.com.

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