With more than 175 years of combined experience, there probably isn’t an insult high school football officials Tom Dale, Doug Gochnour, Rich Gorman, Ron Hopkins and Larry Shippy haven’t heard.
They’ve been accused of being blind, biased and incompetent, but fans have yet to pick up on the one true trait they all have in common.
The quintet teamed up for the first time to officiate the Bishop Kelly at Kuna football game on Aug. 25, taking to the field with a combined eight joint replacements.
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They call themselves the “Bionic Refs,” and each has 20 years or more experience getting heckled on Friday nights.
Shippy, who had a right knee replacement four years ago, is the youngest of the group at 47.
Like many of his peers, Shippy has a good sense of humor — and a number of joking reasons why he became a referee in the first place.
“I lost a bet,” Shippy said. “I had no misery in my life, so I decided to officiate.”
All jokes aside, the real reason behind their longtime commitment to an often thankless job has more to do with friendship and a genuine love for the sport.
“What I like about it is being with my fellow officials on the field, the camaraderie and social aspect of it,” said Gorman, who at 62 has had shoulder, hip and knee replacements. “As well as being out there with the kids on a regular basis. It keeps you young.”
For Dale, the former mayor of Nampa and current Canyon County commissioner, it’s also about personal growth.
“I think it’s great training to understand our role in life wherever we’re at in that you have to learn to not take things personally,” said Dale, who had an ankle replaced in January 2016. “You have to learn to do the best you can and to always be seeking knowledge and always be trying to learn to get better.”
As part of Idaho’s Third District of officials, the group referees for 42 high school football programs in Idaho, plus six more in Oregon. And that’s not even counting the junior high and middle school games.
In a typical week, each man is called upon to officiate multiple games, sometimes two in a single day.
You cannot make everybody happy all the time. You just try to do what’s right and what’s fair based on what you see.
Tom Dale, football official on how he handles criticism during games
Gochnour, a 63-year-old who had both knees replaced, was scheduled to officiate an afternoon game Friday in Valley County and then drive to Emmett for the Huskies’ varsity kickoff at 7 p.m. He’s also an umpire for softball games in the spring.
“We don’t do it for the money, we do it for the kids,” Gochnour said. “When you figure all the time we spend going to meetings and traveling to and from games and studying the rules and taking tests and clinics, we probably make minimum wage or less.”
Hopkins, who had a knee replaced seven years ago, says he has kept officiating because he enjoys the excitement of the game now as much as he did when he was playing in his younger days.
“I try my best to keep up with those 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Hopkins, a 64-year-old in his 36th year officiating.
Although their joints may have given out years ago, Third District Football Commissioner Scott Orr says the “Bionic Refs” represent some of the best in the business.
“I think it’s a love for the game,” Orr said. “These guys love the game and have gone through procedures that have altered their performance, but yet they are still on the field, still very active. They’re great guys with a passion to officiate football, and that’s what makes good officials.”