Football coach was right to praise officials

Football coach was right to praise officials

Butte High football coach Arie Grey had the quote of the week — and maybe the year — after the Bulldogs dropped an 18-17 thriller to Billings Senior at Daylis Stadium in Billings last Thursday night.

Shortly before Senior’s Mcclain Burkley kicked a 20-yard field goal to win the game with 2 seconds left, it appeared that Billings Senior fumbled the ball.

Butte High defender Cole Stewart clearly recovered the fumble, holding the ball up to show the officials. However, an official quickly and emphatically ruled that the runner was down before the fumble occurred.

Viewers on the statewide television broadcast could see that the ball was likely a fumble. It did not look like the runner ever clearly secured the ball on the handoff.

Grey, however, quickly cut off the controversy after the game.

“I try to remind people that those five guys who officiated worked their butt off all night long for both teams,” Grey said. “And they don’t get the benefit of the replay.”

Then, Grey added, “They did a great job.”

While Butte High fans might not have been comforted by those words, they were probably calmed by them. Consequently, the days following the game were filled with talk of a great opening game, and not one of a controversy.

Had the coach not said that, things might have gotten ugly, especially on the cancer to society that is social media. How ugly? Well, we will have to leave that to our imagination.

Grey’s words reminded me of a story I heard while taking sociology class from the late, great Tom Lester my freshman year at Montana Tech.

It was an 8:10 a.m. class on a Friday morning, and I was usually a little sleepy at that time of the day. So, I do not remember which team Mr. Lester was talking about in the story, but I think it was Montana Tech.

He was discussing the importance of crowd control in volatile situations. He told of a time when he was coaching basketball on the bench when a couple of players began to fight on the court.

Mr. Lester stood up, quickly turned around and addressed the players on the bench, threatening them to keep their butts on the pine and stay out of the fight.

The players listened to him.

With the bench under control, Mr. Lester said, the fight on the court could be easily stopped by the officials and other coaches.

If the bench players would have rushed the court, pandemonium would have broken out.

That is what Grey did in moments following the gut-wrenching loss. He basically told Butte High fans and players — and media members covering the team — to keep their butts on the bench. He said there would be no reason to cry foul following the game.

Grey is right, too. While watching the play a couple of times, I would say that there is a 90 percent chance that the call on the field was wrong.

The official might have been closer than the television camera, but his view was likely obstructed. He was, after all, surrounded by some pretty big linemen from Butte High and Senior.

If they would have ruled the ball a fumble, Butte High would have gone into “victory formation,” taken a couple of knees and won 17-15.

It is not, however, fair to say that one call cost any team a game.

Fans only want to remember calls at the end of the game. A call or play in the first quarter might have just as big of an impact in the outcome, but it is not as obvious.

Fans also only tend to see the calls that go against them. They quickly forget the questionable calls that go their way.

For instance, Billings Senior was hit with a back-breaking 15-yard penalty early in the game when a player barely shoved a player from Butte High. Sure, it was not very sporting, but it also was not a blatant cheap shot. It was just a little push.

A flag was thrown, however, when a Bulldog flopped like a soccer player. SWX color man Bobby Beers, a former McKinley Viking, pointed that out live on television.

Another reason Grey should be praised for his remarks was that officials certainly do not deserve to be criticized and ridiculed for a call, even if it is the wrong one.

Former Montana Tech football coach Bob Green used to always say, “We can’t play without officials.” Of all the memorable things the coach uttered in his remarkable career, that one might be the truest.

That goes from pro football to high school football to T-ball. Without officials, there would be no game. Unfortunately, we are going not far away from the days when we learn that the hard way.

Before Butte High’s Purple and White scrimmage, a handful of officials talked about the dwindling number of referees in Butte’s pool. They wondered how they were going to cover all the games later in the season.

The truth is, they might not be able to.

In fact, that shortage is one of the main reasons Montana started playing some high school football games on Thursday night in the first place. We do not have enough referees to go around if every team played on Friday night, which is the dream of every high school player.

Butte’s pool of officials took a hit with some monumental retirements. Those include great officials like Ned Ellingwood and Jack Hogart, just to name a couple.

With all those years of experience heading to retirement, we do not have enough young officials stepping up to fill their shoes.

Countless appeals to recruit younger men and women have not been sufficient. So even after a tough loss, we need to be thankful and courteous the officials we still have. After all, poor treatment of game officials has to be at the top of the list of reasons why official numbers for youth sports are declining around the nation.

We have to be as nice to these officials on the court and field as we are to their faces, too.

Last basketball season, I was talking to some officials in the hallway before a Butte High game. A fan walked up and actually said the words “thank you for your service” to the three officials, as if they just served their third tour in Afghanistan.

A half hour later, that same fan was screaming at the same officials, calling them cheaters. They could clearly hear him, too.

At least one of those officials was already on the verge of hanging up the whistle. It will be interesting to see if the official is in uniform during the next basketball season.

As Grey said, those five officials worked their butts off for both teams. They were not perfect, but they tried so hard to be — pretty much like every official everywhere.

He was right to praise them. We should all follow his lead.

Unfortunately for Mr. Lester, his colleague did not follow his.

Mr. Lester was proud of the way he thought he defused the situation. He was patting himself on the back as he turned around to see his fellow coach throwing a punch.

He cocked his fist back to slowly demonstrate to the class the haymaker the coach heaved as the melee started to get out of hand.

“Have a nice weekend,” Mr. Lester said, waving us out of his classroom.

He left the rest of the scene up to our imagination.

— Bill Foley, who blames every loss by the Bears and Red Sox on the officials, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at 1 comment

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  • Beth Corbin
    September 2, 2021, 5:16 pm

    ARIE GREY was a class act when he played football at Montana State. My best friend, the late Jill Allison, was the academic/athletic coordinator at MSU when ARIE played there and she couldn’t say enough good things about his character, work ethic and all around good person attributes. She would be happy to know he hasn’t changed and is someone Butte High should be proud to represent them.


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