Profund Sports Truth #541: it's a lot more fun yelling at a referee you know personally. Of course, the fun is diminished somewhat if you have to yell at the TV because he's doing a game in Corvallis or something, but it still beats yelling at anonymous boneheads.
I came to this realization when I found myself yelling at the TV a few weeks back during the broadcast of an Arizona State football game. The head of the officiating crew was Jim Fogltance, longtime Tucsonan and current sort-of principal at Amphi High School. A call had been made that would really hurt the Sun Devils and the officials were gathered to talk it over.
A torrent of boos cascaded down from the stands. (Fortunately for the ASU fans, "boo" has only one syllable.) Afraid that they were going to change the call in ASU's favor, I started yelling at the screen. Finally, Fogltance clicked on his mic and said that the call stood. I remember thinking, "Gee, he sounds just like himself."
(Hey, after sitting around all day thinking really deep thoughts, every now and then you need a simplistic one to clean out the carbon deposits.)
Fogltance is a legend in these parts, a Pac-10 football ref since the league was formed in 1978 and a man who has officiated hundreds, if not thousands, of basketball games at a variety of levels, from junior college on down. Despite being a young 58, he has officiated games in part or all of five different decades. He has reffed the Rose Bowl game, and was on the field during the most famous play in football history. And yet he remembers, with vivid clarity, plays that took place in high-school football games more than a quarter-century ago.
"Probably the worst call I ever made was in a Santa Rita-Sunnyside game back in the '70s," recalls Fogltance. "The Sunnyside coach, Paul Petty, was always the perfect gentleman, but boy, did I test him that night. I blew a call that could have cost him the game, but fortunately, it all worked out OK."
He has a treasure trove of stories, of how he and some of the old guard guys-- Rip DePascal, Dean Metz and Bobby Rauh--would take their lives in their hands and drive down to Bisbee or Douglas to do prep football games. He smiles, "The fans down there and in places like Nogales take their sports seriously."
Born in Cleveland, Fogltance moved to Tucson with his family because of his brother's health. He graduated from Amphi High in 1961 and attended the UA, where he majored in education. (He also spent time in the Marines Reserves.) While at Arizona, he took a sports officiating class and it was there that DePascal talked him into trying officiating as a sideline.
"Rip was really enthusiastic about it, so I gave it a try. I found that you can get in a workout, see to it that a game is run smoothly and fairly, and make a little money on the side. Where's the downside there?"
He continued doing prep football and basketball throughout the '70s and even got a few assignments to do small college games. When the two Arizona schools joined the former Pac-8, a recommendation from the aforementioned Paul Petty helped get Fogltance a job with the new conference.
A few years later, he was the field judge at the 1982 Cal-Stanford contest, a Bay Area rivalry matchup that is referred to hyperbolically as The Big Game. It was in this game that there was a play so amazing it is known simply as The Play.
Stanford, led by John Elway playing in his final college games, had just scored the go-ahead touchdown with seconds to go in the contest. The Cardinals kicked off and, as the Stanford players closed in on the Cal kick returner, the Bear player lateralled the ball to a teammate. That player, in turn, lateralled it to another player, and so on. The Stanford band, thinking the game was over, walked through the far end zone and onto the field. Meanwhile, the Golden Bears stormed down the field, lateralling the ball an incredible six times, until the final player ran into the end zone, crashing into a Stanford tuba player in the process.
"I never did see the touchdown scored," says Fogltance. "All I remember is that it was utter chaos."
In the mid-'90s, he took a couple of years off from reffing prep basketball. His son, B.J., was playing for the Amphi varsity team that would win the only boys basketball title in the school's history, so Fogltance stopped working boys' games to avoid any hint of impropriety. (The star of that Amphi team, Emerson Whitley, went on to captain the Yale University team.)
He also stopped doing girls' games around the same time, but for a different reason. "I was doing a game at Green Fields. I gave this kid a technical foul and she started crying." He pauses, then adds, "I'm all for girls getting the same good officiating that boys do, but that really threw me for a loop."
Fogltance is now serving as the interim principal at Amphi High. When the previous principal left, shall we say, abruptly, the school was looking at an entire busy summer without a principal. Fogltance, who was already retired from the district, was brought in on an interim basis and expected to be there for a few weeks. It's now six months and the district can't expect to hire anybody until February at the earliest. (A lot of the faculty, staff and parents would like him to stay on permanently, but because of state law, he basically can't un-retire.)
The day I interviewed him, he was getting ready to go ref a game. Not in the L.A. Coliseum or Husky Stadium in Seattle. He was heading out to Altar Valley to do a junior-high flag football game with the home team hosting Sahuarita. The top referee in the top football conference in America doing junior-high flag football?
"Hey, I enjoy it. I like being around the kids. And you know what? The parents and fans still give me grief."