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Thursday, June 20, 2013
Casual airport conversationPosted Thursday, December 4, 2008, at 2:06 PM
Cooper Castleberry is a NCAA Big XII referee.
Stranded at the airport in Santa Barbara, California for what seemed like an eternity, waiting on my plane to show up, my wife Kristie, and I struck up a conversation with a furniture business owner from Lufkin, Texas named Cooper Castleberry.
Why is it that people stuck in an airport feel compelled to tell the story of their travels? I've never understood it, but that's the way it is. Conversations of a grandmother's surgery, a soldier returning home, and a baptism in Las Vegas surrounded me.
Mr. Castleberry attentively listened to Kristie tell the story of why we were in Santa Barbara and felt obligated to share his story. Seems as though he was supposed to be at home in Lufkin over the weekend but got 'the call' to work his second job as a NCAA Big XII football official. He had to referee a game at the last minute between Cal Poly and Weber State.
Yes Mizzou fans, that Cooper Castleberry!
I was nose to nose with the referee who called a holding penalty against Missouri on fourth down and goal that nullified Chase Daniels' touchdown that would have put Mizzou on top of Iowa State 22-21 with only seconds left to play on Nov. 18, 2006. The Tigers were backed up ten yards and forced to pass but Daniels was sacked to end the game with the Cyclones winning 21-16. After Missouri sent in tape of the play to Big 12 officials, the conference issued an apology, acknowledging that the call was incorrect and admitting the officiating crew "blew it."
"I don't care if it's the Super Bowl or the peewee championship, any official hates to make a call that changes the outcome of a game. But if you don't have the courage to do that, then don't even put the striped shirt on," was Castleberry's response when I asked him about the call.
Missouri fans angered by the loss and frustrated with a team that had lost its fourth game in five tries targeted Castleberry.
"I got some anonymous phone calls from people, saying 'You're pitiful, you're terrible,' that type of thing," Castleberry said. "But my life wasn't threatened or anything like that."
That game led to an unauthorized asterisk being placed on the Telephone Trophy (goes to the winner of the rivalry each year) that remained until just this November.
Castleberry was also the referee in charge in 2006 when irate fans started throwing water bottles onto the field at a Colorado football game. He had this to say about that incident. "That was the most unfortunate situation in which I have ever found myself in during a game. For no apparent reason, some fans started throwing virtually anything they could get their hands on onto the field. They threw empty glass bottles, water bottles full of water, toy footballs, stadium cushions, pompoms, I mean everything. The side judge, Freeman Johns, was almost hit with a full water bottle and that's when we stopped the game. I told security to either get the crowd to identify the guilty parties or clear the entire section. I assume the guilty parties were not identified because security cleared everyone. The situation was far too dangerous to allow those people to remain there."
Out of fun, I also asked him if he was involved in the Mizzou/Colorado 'fifth down' game? He emphatically replied (with his hands up in defense), "No, no, no, that was not me! I had nothing to do with that game!"
I asked Mr. Castleberry to take me through a typical week of his during football season;
"Monday - Get back in the office and take care of business from the weekend while I was at the game. Tie up any loose ends resulting from the game. Usually attend the local TASO chapter meeting.
Tuesday - Make sure hotel reservations are confirmed for upcoming weekend and if anyone ordered game tickets, they are in my possession or will be left at "will call". Begin working on this week's pregame.
Wednesday - Get organized with any questions that the crew wants cleared up during the weekly conference call. Conference call with all referees at 7PM. Afterwards, email conference call notes to crew. Make sure important topics from the conference call are included in the pregame.
Thursday - Complete pregame (if not completed the night before) and run copies for the crew. Either work or watch a sub-varsity game. Afterwards, pack for the weekend.
Friday - Head to Houston (IAH) early. Catch flight to destination (usually around noon). Arrive and either meet crew members at the airport or hotel. 5PM, everyone should be at the hotel. 6PM, dinner. After dinner, a pregame meeting. If we have an early game (11AM to 1:30PM) the meeting will be lengthy...say 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If it is a late game, the meeting will be very short only to make sure the crew knows our agenda for Saturday.
Saturday - The schedule is determined by the game time. We have to be at the stadium 3 - 3 1/2 hours prior to kickoff. So, an 11AM kick requires us to be at the stadium at 8AM minimum. Breakfast at 6:30 and leave the hotel by 7:30. If we have a lengthy drive to the stadium, the schedule is even earlier than that. It is common for us to drive 30 minutes to an hour to the stadium from the hotel. Anyway, that basic time schedule is adjusted by the game time. If we didn't pregame Friday night, we will do so at length when we get to the stadium. If we did, then the meeting prior to kickoff is a little shorter. Every one of my crew members is responsible for 2 pregame discussions during the season. Those are always done at the game site rather than the Friday night meeting. At 1:45 before kickoff, we change into our uniform. 1:15, the umpire and I meet with the coaches. 1:00 the crew goes in pairs to the field to observe the team's warm-up. In some instances, the entire crew goes out. :20, the entire crew to the field. :05, captains are brought out. :03, teams are brought out as toss is being conducted. :00 KICKOFF ON TIME! After the game, fill out reports, shower and dress. Depending on the location of the airport, we may move to a hotel that's closer to it. Some crew members go home immediately after the game...particularly the ones that drove rather than flew. Saturday night, relax and enjoy the evening.
Sunday - Fly home and crash...not the airplane...ME! Recap yesterday's game and make rough draft of next week's pregame."
I asked Castleberry what his "position" is as an official and his main duties?
"I am the Referee...the "good guy in the white hat." I am responsible for the management of the crew and I am the final word on the field. I signal the fouls, make announcements on the field mic and make sure the Umpire enforces the proper yardage. During play, my main responsibility is the quarterback (or kicker) with secondary responsibilities for holding and other fouls in the offensive backfield.
BTW, everyone refers to us as referees which is incorrect. We are officials. There is only one Referee and he wears the white hat."
Castleberry recalled how he started officiating. "In 1978, I was on a church outing to the Astrodome to watch the Astros play a game. Two guys sitting in front of me (Robbie Thompkins and Web Jenkins) were talking about their first year of officiating HS football and how much fun they had had. I started asking questions and they invited me to join the chapter for the upcoming season. I did and the rest is history. As a side note, when I joined, I found an old fraternity brother was the chapter secretary; Tommy Moore (later became an NFL official)."
I then asked him what kind of differences stood out among the different conferences he has officiated in? "At each level, the game is faster and the players are bigger. There is a noticeable difference when you're on the field. But, after you adjust, working the University of Texas isn't that much different from working Lufkin High School; there are 22 players on a 100 yard field. Now, to make that step from HS to D-1 overnight would be extremely difficult because the differences are too great. But, to do it gradually and adjust as you go, it is not that hard. There is also an adjustment to the size of the crowd, the noise and TV. But, those things have absolutely nothing to do with the game and you can't let those things get in your head. The game is still the game even if the stadium was empty and the cameras were to disappear. The crowd is so large, it becomes wallpaper and it is so loud, you don't even hear it. It's just noise. The biggest adjustment as one moves up is the scrutiny. At each step up the ladder, the microscope focuses on you a little tighter. When I got to the Big XII, that hit me the hardest. We were watched and critiqued by an observer at the game, then the coaches would send in their comments, followed by play-by-play analysis by NFL quality film graders and finally a critique by Tim Millis, the Big XII Supervisor of Officials. Some guys crater from all of that while others use it as a tool to get better. If criticism makes you crawl into a shell, then don't get into college football officiating."
In the year 2000, Castleberry was selected to officiate the Insight.com Bowl in just his second year in the WAC. I asked if he considered that an honor, since they usually pick the top officials from each conference to officiate bowl games? "Absolutely. No matter what level you work, whether it be high school or NFL, it is an honor to be selected as an official in a play-off or bowl game. That happened to have been the first football game ever to be played in the Bank One Ballpark... The BOB. Even though I had worked a D-1AA quarterfinal game a couple of years earlier in Montana, this was my first "real" bowl game. It was very exciting and I was fortunate enough to have Pitt and Iowa State in the game. Later, after being hired by the Big XII, when I saw Coach McCarney of Iowa State for the first time, he remembered me working his bowl game."
This very nice gentleman, who I decided must be a fair person after talking so long, shared more information that did not pertain to football. He married his high school sweetheart and best friend, Julie Noland in 1974. She helps run the family business, Castleberry's Furniture. He has three children that he obviously thinks the world of and he could not wait to get back to Lufkin to be with them all.
This blog could go many directions now.... Have you ever had an interesting conversation in an airport? Met any celebrities in an airport? Or anywhere else? Flight been delayed? You choose.
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Bobby is currently the General Manager and Assistant Publisher at the Daily Statesman after serving his term as Managing Editor. He wears many hats in the office, including coordinator of all things online, but his real passion is sports.