Joe Sechrist’s day job as a school counselor takes him from his home in Hillsboro, Kansas, to Allison Middle School in Wichita every day. But his side gig as a football official took him all the way to Durham, North Carolina, last December for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) football championship. Sechrist, a member of Hillsboro MB Church, took the field as the “white hat” for the all-star team of officials at the 2022 championship game.
Has football always been important to you?
I come from a family of football fans. My dad helped coach our little league team and he helped build Arrowhead Stadium for the Kansas City Chiefs. I played football since the fourth grade through my junior year at Tabor.
How did you get started officiating?
One Wednesday night, coming out of church, I asked a friend who officiated high school football if he needed anyone for his crew. He said, “Hey, I was just going to call someone, but if you want to do it, it’s yours.”
What does it mean that you’re a “white hat?”
My position on the field is referee wearing a white hat. Everyone else wears a black hat. The referee is the crew chief for the eight people who make up the crew. I’m responsible for communication with schools, coaches and supervisors, logistics, and making sure all the fouls are reported correctly. If anything bad happens during the game, I’m the one to get the call.
How do you prepare?
A lot goes on behind the scenes year-round. You don’t just show up an hour before game time, get dressed and go officiate. We attend officiating clinics, rules meetings and have video study that analyzes what officials got right and what they got wrong. Every other week during the summer there’s a rules test.
Is it a challenge to not show favoritism to one team or the other?
We officials are the third team on the field. Our team wins when we adjudicate the rules and get the calls right. We’re under more scrutiny by our supervisors after the game than by the fans on the field. A supervisor of officials grades each foul that was called. We always want to be correct, but if we’re not, we want to figure out why. Did I not know the rule? Was I not looking in the right place or standing in the right place? We always want to be getting better but no one is ever perfect.
What do you love about officiating football?
I love to be part of football, and this is how I know how to do that. I love it on Saturday when the whistle blows and the ball is kicked off. But most importantly, I love the camaraderie. People who wear the stripes get super close, as close as family!
Kathy Heinrichs Wiest is a freelance writer who loves the smell of whole wheat bread in the oven, the feel of an orange being plucked from the tree and the view from her front porch in Kingsburg, California. On Sunday mornings you’ll find her in the fourth pew from the front on the left at Kingsburg MB Church, moved by the hymns and praise songs and inspired by the stories of God at work locally and around the world. She and her husband, Steve, own Dovetail Remodeling. They have two grown daughters, one son-in-law and a precious granddaughter.