KANELAND—It could be that the best officiating crew in any high school sport is the one you barely notice.
That’s ironic, considering the countless officials that make up the Illinois High School Association landscape go through painstaking time and material to keep up with their particular sport.
Some of those officials can claim themselves part of the area, even though their trade takes them all over northern Illinois, and even to State finals.
IHSA football has seen the likes of Montgomery representative Robert Ybarra and former Elburn resident Ed Reier for a combined six decades of action.
Those gentleman that patrol the sidelines and keep 22 capable athletes in order on Friday nights go through offseason prep that rivals the intensity of teams like the Knights’ playbook study.
Ybarra, who has been tabbed to officiate two IHSA State football championship games, not only keeps up on the rules, but also passes on what he has learned in approved seminars and clinics.
“I was in Peoria last week and running a clinic and going to be in Forreston, Ill., on Aug. 9 to train and educate other officials. These IHSA-approved clinics give them the opportunity to learn,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra is sometimes asked to give nine different presentations at summer officiating clinics, dealing with aspects of football like the passing game, kicking game or penalties.
“When you’re asked to present to 100 people, you have to be an expert on these aspects of the game,” Ybarra said.
Being an expert goes a long way for the 23-year gridiron vet Ybarra, who earned spots in previous title games through a power rating system handed down by IHSA assessors.
“You get rated each game, and get points, and you attend rules clinics every summer which gets you points, as well,” Ybarra said.
There’s no magic to what Ybarra has been able to do leading into each season.
“You have to stay on top of the rules and communicate with your crew and the coaches and be prepared. You have to know the rules and have your philosophy and definition of penalties. There could be a game where it’s a 30-8 game, and talent and players enter into it the most, but another completely different crew could have their take on a rule and it’d end up being a different score,” Ybarra said.
Ybarra would like to see what other opportunities lay out there and work his way up one day.
“You need to join the Midwest Football Officiating Alliance, which puts you in with Division III games, and I’d like to work my way up to the Big Ten,” Ybarra said.
To appreciate Ybarra’s journey as a weekend warrior in black-and-white, just look at an early age.
“I would run around with my older brothers and I just wasn’t fast enough,” Ybarra said, “So, during football games they asked if I wanted to blow the whistle and that’s how it all began. There was an ad in the paper for an IHSA football clinic and I thought ‘why couldn’t I do that?’”
Reier, of Arlington Heights, Ill., but a recent decade-long resident of Elburn, has a little more experience and an eye for how the game has changed.
“The players are faster and stronger, and we have to keep up with them more,” Reier said. “We have to respond to that. As I age, it gets tougher.”
Reier, working for a landscaping company in Skokie, Ill., keeps going as an official like he has every year since the early 1980s.
“The thing is, these kids don’t age. We get older, and a different set of kids come in. But there are things I’ve improved at, like response time,” Reier said.
Reier’s expertise has brought him all over the northern half of the state.
“I’ve been all over. Recently, I’ve done games in Rockford, been out by Lincoln-Way, done games at Kaneland and gone all the way to Lake Forest,” Reier said.
Much like training camp that begins in under two weeks, Reier is preparing to get busy.
“We meet next week for an IHSA clinic to go over and review the rules again. There’s a lot that goes on. More and more teams are running the spread offense, and in the pre-game meeting, coaches will ask how we’ll rule a certain play,” Reier said.
Reier and his whistle-wearing brothers have goals that are similar to the kids wearing helmets: do their best every week.
“Our goal as a group is do our best week to week for the IHSA,” Reier said. “There’s nothing like a full stadium on a Friday night.”
Elburn Village President Dave Anderson has been at it for 40 years as part of the IHSA track and cross-country scene, at the front lines of the usual Kaneland staples like the Peterson Prep and Jill Holmes Invite.
“In the beginning, you didn’t have to belong to the IHSA officials group, but about 23 years ago, that became a prerequisite,” Anderson said.
Track is a sport that has more constant edges than others, but Anderson notices changes nonetheless.
“I think the safety procedures taken have really come into effect,” Anderson said. “I remember landing pits being sand or sawdust, and now they are cushioned.”
Anderson also thinks technology has impacted today’s track as much as any other sport.
“Before, it was just ear and the eye once they crossed the finish line, and now you have stop watches, chips and automatic time stop. It’s been positive,” Anderson said.
Also like other sports, Anderson and the other officials at huge meets need to keep up on the rules of the road, so to speak.
“The rulebook has definitely gotten thicker, but you have to keep up with it. The technology and the rules and structure of the meets have made things quicker, as well. That’s good for everyone, especially the fans,” Anderson said. “We go to a clinic once a year and get tested once a year.”
An official can see the best side of kids and the not-so-good side after wins and losses, but Anderson can vouch for the latest crop of kids in his field.
“The last two or three years, the kids have been great,” Anderson said. “Both the boys and girls side has been polite and respectful. It’s a constant sport and their demeanor is great when I speak to them.”