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Final whistle ends 30-year career as ref

Staff writer

“No official has ever called a perfect game. It’s part of being human.”

That’s what David Johnson of Burdick said Friday of his 30-year career as a referee.

“People don’t realize when they yell and scream at you that you may have things going on in your personal life that affect you,” he said. “Officials never want to mess up games.”

Johnson was recognized March 11 at the Class 2A state basketball tournament in Manhattan.

Before the presentation, he officiated for the last time in the boys championship game between Wichita Independent School and Moundridge. He had officiated a girls semi-final game between Pittsburg-St. Mary’s Colgan and Riverside the night before.

Coach Bud Peterson got Johnson, then 22, started as a referee when Peterson was athletic director at Centre.

He took an open book test every year and had to register for each sport he officiated. Most of his training was on the job. Now, training classes are available.

Johnson’s career began in the 1992-’93 school year. For four or five years, he officiated at junior varsity and junior high games, mostly in area schools. His first varsity game was a rivalry competition between Centre and Hope.

“I wanted to referee varsity games, but there were a lot of officials, and commissioners were cautious about who they hired,” he said.

Early on, he officiated at baseball, softball, and volleyball games as well as football and basketball.

Realizing the work was taking him away from family time, he cut back to just football and basketball, eventually working his way up to 5A and 6A schools.

He officiated at 25 sub-state tournaments and 20 state tournaments.

Dealing with unruly coaches and fans was his biggest challenge.

“I was responsible to keep coaches in line, but unruly fans were the school administrations’ responsibility,” he said. “I didn’t have authority to throw fans out.”

Camaraderie with fellow officials and coaches is something that will remain for the rest of his life, Johnson said.

“I know people from border to border in Kansas, and if I had a flat tire within 35 miles of any of them, they would come and help me,” he said.

He shed a few tears as he accepted his recognition certificate from Kansas State High School Activities Association, but physical wear and tear led him to retire.

“It was hard on my body, and I feel like I’m 72 instead of 52,” he said. “Every year, I was a year older, but the players were the same age.”

The morning after officiating, he often found himself in pain. In football, fields are uneven, and after a rain they can be very hard, he said. Twisted ankles and tweaked knees were common.

One time, he was running down a field when he hit a hole he didn’t know was there and hurt a thigh muscle.

But he never missed a game even though basketball required miles and miles of running up and down the court.

He expects to need knee replacements in the future.

Johnson also served as commissioner of the Wheat State League, formerly Eisenhower League, for 20 years.

He is resigning that job at the end of this sports season.

The job included assigning referees and participating in the selection of all-league teams.

“I did a lot behind the scenes, which I liked,” he said.

He is married to Connie. They have two children — Kirsten Perez of Westmoreland and Kodey Johnson of Valley Center — and a 7-month-old grandson.

The reality of his retirement hasn’t set it yet.

“It will probably happen at the beginning of the basketball season next winter,” he said. “I may have to leave the state for a while.”

Last modified March 22, 2023

 

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