When sports stories are written about high school games, they are focused on the players and coaches who are the central figures. But rarely is a story written — unless there’s a huge blunder — about the men and women who are the referees, officials and umpires who make decisions on who commits a foul, steps out of bounds, is offsides, or is safe or out at home plate.
Yet these game officials are a big part of every athletic event at every level. Fortunately, there are many residents of the western communities who are game officials. Without them, the hundreds of high school games and recreational contests that take place every year in our communities would not be possible.
While all game officials are trained and paid for their efforts, the financial compensation often works out to less than minimum wage for their time and expertise.
So, why are people doing this job?
For Rick Schiliro, Ronnie Wood and Darin DeCosta, who all have strong ties to the western communities, they are referees because they love sports and enjoy providing a helping hand to their community.
They are not motivated by the game fee, which doesn’t come close to compensating them for their time driving to the game, officiating the game and then driving home, often getting home late. There’s no extra compensation if the game goes to overtime, extra innings or has a delayed start.
Schiliro, Wood and DeCosta all have jobs that require their presence the following morning, even if a game finishes late. Schiliro is an insurance broker, Wood is a sales account manager for Coca-Cola and DeCosta is a teacher at Royal Palm Beach High School.
Schiliro officiates because he wants to lend a helping hand. “I started officiating local rec basketball games in Wellington more than 15 years ago because other basketball officials encouraged me to do it. So, I did. They needed help,” he recalled. “And I’m still officiating basketball games.”
Schiliro now works basketball games involving middle school and high school-age athletes.
For Wood, who played football, basketball and baseball at Forest Hill High School back in the early 1970s, becoming a sports official was a natural thing for him to do after graduating from Troy State in 1979. “I work in sales, and I love the players, coaches, administrators and parents I have met over the years through athletics,” said Wood, who has officiated high school football in Palm Beach County for 44 years. “Being an official has also opened up doors for me in my professional life.”
In addition to officiating high school football, Wood also works at girls high school flag football and recreation league flag football, youth football and basketball.
As for DeCosta, he was introduced to basketball officiating nearly 30 years ago, and he could never walk away from it.
“I was first introduced to basketball officiating back in Rhode Island,” DeCosta recalled. “I moved to Florida and continued officiating basketball. It has stuck with me ever since.”
DeCosta has officiated pro basketball (ABA, USBL and summer pro league games in Miami), college basketball (NAIA) and high school basketball (mainly in Palm Beach County). He now focuses just on officiating high school basketball.
In the last 12 months, Schiliro estimates that he has officiated more than 300 basketball games in Palm Beach County, from local rec games involving elementary-age children up to high school games.
While fans and coaches have criticized a few of their calls, all three men have learned to ignore the critics in the stands.
“I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a young player actually shoot the basketball and make it,” said Schiliro, who still plays basketball himself. “I applaud them and encourage them.”
“For every call I make in a game, half the people agree with me, and half the people think I’m wrong,” added Wood, who has officiated a few state final high school football games and many state final games in girls flag football.
From time to time, Schiliro and Wood receive compliments for their efforts.
“Just recently, a parent approached me after a game and thanked me for my efforts guiding and encouraging the players on the court,” Schiliro said.
“I’ve had many people come up to me afterward and compliment me on my performance as a referee,” Wood said.
All three juggle busy game schedules during any given season.
“During football season, I might have a freshman or junior varsity game on a Wednesday night, high school varsity games on Thursday and Friday nights, a youth football game on Saturday morning, and then an FAU home game that Saturday night,” Wood said.
“During basketball season, I’m officiating four or five games a week,” DeCosta added.
It certainly helps keep them in shape.
“By officiating basketball, it’s great exercise running up and down the basketball court,” said Schiliro, who has added recreation flag football and volleyball games to the list of sports that he officiates.
During the basketball season, Schiliro also works at all Keiser University men’s and women’s basketball games. There, he works at the scorer’s table where he’s in charge of the game clock, the shot clock, the home scoring book or the scoreboard.
“I work more than 50 basketball games a year for Keiser University and have done that job for many years,” Schiliro said. “And I watch those college basketball refs. They are good refs.”
One of the reasons that Wood and his fellow football officials are working varsity games on Thursday nights is because there are not enough qualified high school football officials to work all the high school games traditionally held every Friday night in the fall.
“We only have enough officials in Palm Beach County to work 12 high school varsity games on a Friday night,” said Wood, who also assigns football officials for the Western Communities Football League in Wellington. “On any given Friday night, we’ll have 17 or 18 games. So, some games have to be moved to Thursday nights. We need more men and women to become registered football officials for local rec games on the weekends, plus freshman, JV and varsity games during the week.”
DeCosta noted that working as a game official is not as easy as it looks.
“So many high school basketball fans watch NBA games on television,” he said. “Pro basketball is totally different than high school basketball. Many fans think they know what we should or shouldn’t call, but they don’t.”
So, next time that you attend a high school sports event, you might see Schiliro, Wood or DeCosta in black-and-white striped shirts with a whistle dangling from their neck. Take time afterward to thank them for their time and effort.
Meanwhile, if you have interest, consider joining the ranks of high school sports officials.
They’ll be happy to see you join their team.