The Return
Dan Witmer |June 14, 2021
Well, for those of you who were worried about what I’d do with myself after the end of our high school season last week, please take some comfort knowing that I survived. In fact, I had a great week!

Because of the compressed high school season (seven weeks from start to finish, and we played 15 games in five weeks), I was unable to referee a random JV or varsity game this year. No midday games during spring break, and no days off for the Oswego varsity... so no scholastic refereeing for this guy.

Nonetheless, the omnipotent assignor saw an opportunity to finally give me some games, and he flat-out outdid himself. He scheduled me for four games in four days this past week - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He showed a sense of compassion, too (or was it humor?) as he paired me up with my son for three of the four games.

As I’ll explain later, it turned into a week of officiating, and I’ll be honest - as much as I enjoy coaching more than refereeing, it felt great to take that stinking mask off and run up and down the field, blowing my whistle and throwing my flags.

Here’s a quick summary of the games, complete with a few personal highlights…

Monday, June 7 - Oswego modified at Fulton

Officials are supposed to call the host school on game day just to confirm site, time, and COVID protocol, so I called Fulton Athletic Director Chris Ells’ office Monday morning. I think we might have met once or twice over the years, but I decided to try to keep the call as professional as possible.

Mr. Ells: “Hello?”

RTD: “Hello, Mr. Ells; this is Dan Witmer and I’m scheduled to officiate this afternoon’s boys modified game…”

Mr. Ells: (joking sarcastically) “Oh great! So how long will it take you to start making calls against Fulton?”

I guess he remembered who I was.

RTD: “Well, that depends. Would you prefer for me to get it done right away, or do you want me to wait until later in the game when it’s more important?”

I can be funny, too. Just three days earlier, I was on the sidelines coaching Oswego against his Fulton varsity team, our third game of the season against Fulton. I hoped he was joking.

Brian and I got to the field just as a 30-minute lightning delay for the entire sports complex was coming to an end. We caught up with Fulton’s athletic trainer, Anthony Wendt, who used to work at Oswego State when I was coaching there. The weather cleared, Oswego arrived, and Brian and I got the game going.

I hope Mr. Ells and the Fulton coaches (and parents) will agree, but I don’t think I ever did make the afore-mentioned bad call against Fulton. The game went back and forth, and Oswego scored late to tie the score and send it into overtime. There was no visible clock or scoreboard, so Brian and I both went out of our way to update both sidelines with that information. Brian was on the bench sideline, and when he called out to the parents on my sideline, I joked that he was obviously working for tips, which got a chuckle out of a few parents.

Oswego prevailed in OT - by three (no real uncertainty) - and as we congratulated both teams on a well-played game, I realised that a good friend of mine, a Fulton parent I hadn’t recognized, was there to watch his son play. We’ve known one another for 20-25 years, and we’ve been teammates in men’s hockey and co-ed soccer leagues, and of course I hadn’t seen him since pre-pandemic, so it was great catching up. As Brian and I walked to my car, some Fulton families walked along with us, and we laughed and joked about the fan/referee interactions.

Tuesday, June 8 - Liverpool modified at C-NS

This was the one game I was not assigned with Brian, so I was just a little anxious about my “performance” with an official whose name I did not recognize. My fears were all for naught, however, when - as we walked from the parking lot to the field - he asked…

“Now, I worked a game a few weeks ago with a Brian Witmer. Is he your brother or something?” And just like that I had a new best friend!

The game went pretty smoothly (for the home team), and coaches, players, and spectators from every constituency were very well behaved. I walked off the field thinking to myself, Not bad… two games; two games with little to no controversy…

Wednesday, June 9 - ES-M modified at Oswego

As the teams huddled up and got ready to face-off, I scanned the field’s deep grass for any stray balls left behind from warm-ups. As I approached the far sideline, an ES-M parent asked me,

“So, you gonna write about this game?”

Another well-read, friendly RTD fan!

I answered, “I don’t know. We’ll see how things play out.” And then I told him about the RTD piece I wrote two years ago about the epic overtime battle I refereed between Auburn’s two modified teams, played at Holland Stadium at the end of their season.

Wednesday’s game was pretty close through the first quarter (I think it might have been tied 3-3) but as the second quarter unfolded, ES-M pulled ahead. The second half was more of the same, but again, everyone behaved themselves.

But fairly late in the game, as a big ES-M defender carried the ball over the midfield line and absorbed a few checks (slashes) along the way, he could be heard saying “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” to himself with each blow.

Now, other coaches - and I - have been known to yell that kind of response as their players take checks, so as to perhaps influence a referee to throw his flag. But this player wasn’t trying to draw a foul - he was simply responding to pain. Brian and I both threw flags and called the penalty, but as I picked up my flag after the call, I heard that same ES-M parent laugh and say,

“Now you've got to write about this game!”

I chuckled and said to myself, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Thursday, June 10 - Syracuse modified at Oswego

Twenty-four hours later and now it was Oswego’s turn to dominate the game. Syracuse scored a couple goals, but they were few and far between. My personal highlight was when a visiting midifelder said to me as he lined up for yet another face-off, “I like you guys (referees). You’re fair; most of the time the refs don’t give us a chance.”

And then he held his glove out for a fist bump.

I could have hugged him!

My week was now four-for-four - four good experiences for me, my officiating partners, opposing coaches, players, and even spectators. Sadly, that doesn’t happen often enough, so I considered myself lucky.

Friday and Saturday were lacrosse-free - until approximately 10:15 Saturday night… when I received a text message from a different assignor asking me if I could fill in at the Get Crushed Tournament at Camillus on Sunday morning - starting at 8 AM.

Now, Brian was already on the schedule, but I had previously decided to pass on the opportunity to work on Sunday. But when I received that text, I figured the assignor was pretty desperate.

Less than 12 hours’ notice… Geez, I’ve been in that kind of jam before, too, so I decided to help bail him out. I replied “Sure!” and he thanked me profusely.

Sunday, June 13 - Orange Crush Tournament

So, yesterday Brian and I worked on Fields 1 and 6 - Brian with boys in grades 5 and 6, and me with boys in grades 1 and 2 (smaller fields, smaller goals, no long sticks, etc) - and we both enjoyed yet another day of great weather, great lacrosse, and well-behaved players, coaches, and parents. Hats off to the Orange Crush organization, Steve Scaramuzzino, Greg Burns, and others - and even an unexpected appearance by SLV’s Kevin Leveille - for a smoothly run day of sunshine and long-awaited competition.

All in all, five days of refereeing after five straight weeks of coaching varsity games. It was a fresh change, and it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I now feel re-freshed, re-charged, and re-invigorated. So much so, in fact, that I accepted a third assignor’s request to officiate tonight’s opening ULA games… paired with Brian, of course! Awesome!

Can my streak of good fortune continue? I sure hope so!

Congrats to all the Sectional champions across the state, but let’s face it - here’s to the return of lacrosse, and summertime lacrosse tournaments! Here’s to the parents, the players, the coaches, and of course, the officials, too. Here’s to vaccinations, no more masks, and the weekly annual congregations of SUVs, wagons and coolers, patient brothers and sisters, and teams cleaning up their sidelines before they leave.

Dare I say it?

Here’s to the return of normal.

Thanks for reading. Please, drive carefully - and stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of three books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – The Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  … and piles to go before I sleep – The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore. His third book, The Best of RTD – A Lacrosse Coach’s Handbook, has just been released at Amazon.com. It contains more than 55 weekly Road Trip Dad blogs spanning 2012-2020, featuring Xs and Os, highs and lows, and even some Dos and Don'ts, and plenty of advice for coaches of all levels.