The Hot Corner: They’re in charge, and we’re not

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You’re ruining a good Sunday morning, newspaper hack.

There were two teams in that game you wrote about yesterday, moron.

Hey, maybe if you weren’t fat and blind, you’d have gotten your butt down the sideline, seen the right kid and written the right name in your little notebook, there.

Oh, c’mon! That’s clearly a run-on sentence! And what about that dangling modifier? Go read your freshman English book, buddy.

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Laughs.

Imagine the fun if we critiqued every job in the world the way we cut up referees, umpires, officials, judges, or any other name attached to the men or women on the playing field wearing distinctly colored shirts and whistles.

At least those are the names we can print.

Today, we begin a three-part series examining the plight of youth sports officials in Maine.

You’ll find out what disconnection in their membranes results in the serious lack of judgment that makes them gravitate to this hobby in the first place.

You’ll hear about the training, constructive criticism and tiered systems that uniquely qualify and prepare them for the thankless task.

You’ll learn why many have stayed with it forever and dread the impending day when their body, mind or a gut feeling (yes, I made sure to add “feeling,“ wise guy) will tell them to hang up the sneakers. And you’ll discover why others can’t run away quickly enough.

When the ink dries, hopefully all us whose lives intersect with these oft-nameless souls — athletes, coaches, spectators, and yes, notebook-wielding watchdogs — will have an enhanced appreciation of the craft.

Times change and hundreds of jobs become harder than they used to be. But I know this much: Officiating a sporting event has never been more difficult than it is right now. And the thought of it getting easier is laughable.

Not when every athlete is bigger, stronger and quicker than his dad, mom, uncles and aunts were.

Not when every coach is a former athlete who sees the game only in that dimension.

Not when every fan has access to thousands of games on the satellite dish and fancies himself or herself an expert in both sports and rules interpretation.

Not when every school tapes every game, and every spectator carries a cell phone that doubles as a video camera.

Not when text messages, blogs, discussion boards and social networking sites spread information like an airplane cockpit sneeze spreads the flu.

Not when increased work and family demands, time constraints and travel expenses make traipsing from Auburn to Buckfield or Bath on an icy January night or a drop-dead gorgeous September afternoon less appealing than ever.

Good officials — like good coaches, good teachers, good police officers, good attorneys and good reporters — find a way to block out the obstacles, the tired jokes and the maddening changes in society that could conspire to make their job tougher.

And they prosper. We know they succeed because we hardly notice them. Until the next year, when their solid reputation, grasp of the sport and management skills make them a natural choice to work yet another championship game.

Perhaps you’ll digest this project and change your tune about officials. That would be good.

Maybe you’ll weigh the qualifications, consider the pros and the cons, and feel inspired to get involved. That would be better.

Some high school sports are saddled with a shortage of officials that puts them at critical mass. Others are doing OK, taking advantage of the same evolving technology that subjects them to such unprecedented scrutiny to recruit new blood.

Just know this: No sport is so well off that it’s saying “no” to any prospective official who is eager enough to jump in, patient enough to learn and thick-skinned enough to continue.

If that person is you, our series will share some resources that will help you get started.

Congratulations. I respect your courage and sense of duty. And I question your sanity.

What’s that?

Who, me? Put on the stripes or the blues? Nope, not in a million years.

I’ve walked the sidelines, sat in the bleachers, squinted through the chain-link fence and stood under the umbrella for 22 years, soaking up every word showered upon these poor folks.

What I thought then, I think now: Thank God they’re not talking to me.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com.

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