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Midvale Journal

Husky alum named high school referee of the year

Mar 08, 2023 04:28PM ● By Julie Slama

UHSAA Assistant Director Jeff Cluff honors referee Scott Maxfield with the male official of the year award. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

In one swift move, Utah High School Activities Association official Scott Maxfield moved his hands to make a T.

It wasn’t a shove or a swat on the arm that warranted the technical. It wasn’t even at a game, but rather it was in jest at the UHSAA’s distinguished service awards where Maxfield was being honored with a wooden plaque as the male official of the year.

“I’ve had 44 years of officiating; I have it down,” said the girls’ and boys’ basketball and football referee.

There are 2,500 referees who officiate UHSAA sports.

“Scott is a perfect example of an official,” UHSAA Assistant Director Jeff Cluff said. “He was a high school coach and has a great background of the game. He also officiated some college and junior college football. He is really proficient and excels; his ability to communicate with coaches is a strength. Scott understands how coaches think and he also understands the value of that communication between an official and a coach—and that’s what makes him so good. He has a great temperament and is somebody that coaches really enjoy having on the floor or on the field because of his ability to manage the game and do what’s best for the game.”

Maxfield played football and hurdled in track and field at Hillcrest High in Midvale before graduating in 1974 and then, continued as a student-athlete at Snow College in Ephraim. He was an assistant girls’ soccer coach at Bingham High in South Jordan between 1995 and 2005, including in 2003 when the Miners won the state title, before coaching the boys’ team for five years.

“Scott referees all over the place. He just finished the 5A state championship game in football and has worked at least 10 championships; he’s one of our top-rated high school basketball officials,” said Cluff, who said that the sports’ associations evaluate referees and recommend them for postseason play.

Maxfield began refereeing when he heard about it from a family member. He started with football and added basketball the following season.

“It started off as a way to get a little bit of extra money for Christmastime and what brought me back year after year was the camaraderie of my officiating brothers and sisters,” he said. “We take our craft seriously and are working to improve it all the time. We want to understand rule knowledge and apply those rules during the game.”

While Maxfield will say the games are exciting and “a rush, mentally, emotionally and physically” and they work hard to get the calls right, “at the end of the day, you just want to feel you’ve just given up your very best.”

That is something Cluff knows as well.

“Regardless of how good you are, you’re going to miss a call,” he said, adding that even professional officials miss calls. “The call you miss is the one everybody remembers. It’s a tough gig. It can take three, five, seven years or longer to become a quality high school official and there is continuous training.”

With all the calls students, coaches and fans make at referees, Maxfield is patient—to a point.

“I don’t tolerate people who make it personal. Don’t try to embarrass me or my crew. It’s not going to go well for you. I don’t give a T very often because I feel like I’m a good communicator. But there’s times when they’ve crossed the line and then, that’s grounds for me to give a technical foul or to throw a flag. The bottom line is that games are won on the floor, on the court, on the field, on the track, whatever it is, the games are won there. It’s unfair to hang that responsibility on what’s perceived as a missed call,” he said. 

Maxfield tries to defuse any situation before it could even arise.

“One of the things I really liked to do in basketball is go to the students and I try to say hi, get to know them a little bit, tell them who I am and hope that they will cheer for us. We need to feel some love once in a while and I see how that disarms people, and they feel like we’re approachable. Sometimes, I’ll ask if the students if they’ve brought a Sharpie for autographs, just to have fun and showing the humanistic side of the things,” he said.

It also helps to create a positive environment and foster good sportsmanship.

“I think in sports, you learn life lessons. Sometimes you win, other times you learn how to lose. Sometimes calls go your way, sometimes they don’t. You may not be picked first; it’s those life’s lessons in interscholastic sports some people make it, and some don’t. It teaches you life’s not fair and sometimes life’s hard, but it helps you understand the ups and the downs, the joys of winning and the sorrow of defeat—and the willingness to bounce back and do better than next time,” Maxfield said.

There’s also been a bit of fun as he’s officiated at schools, seeing traditions from taco shells on the basketball floor to releasing a pheasant on a football field.

“My favorite are the unifying ones, where fans may show up in old basketball gear that doesn’t fit or when they announce the visiting team and they turn their back and pull up newspapers to read,” he said.

Through the years, Maxfield has gotten to know numerous officials as well as high school administrators and coaches.

“Most of the coaches I know very well and call my friends,” he said. “When I go into one of those environments, whether it’s a football or a basketball game, I never want to disappoint; I think an important aspect that people don’t know and understand is that the official-coach relationship is not adversarial. It’s more that we want to try and take our skills and bring them together where, regardless of the officiating contest, whatever the sport is, it’s done according to rules and the players are kept safe. It’s the kids who determine the outcome.”

Through his years officiating, the game day experience for referees has changed.

“When I first started refereeing football and basketball for that matter, it usually constituted climbing into a car and going with your crew to drive together to a game. Most of the games were at 3:30 in the afternoon as a lot of schools didn’t have lights. We’d spend four or five hours together, talking about football or basketball, our family, our kids,” Maxfield said.

At some schools, they provided sandwiches and even white socks. Another had a complete meal for officials. The referees were expected to change into their uniforms in classrooms and even in a custodial closet. Now, they may be handed a bottle of water or Gatorade and some of the newer schools have officials’ dressing rooms, he said.  

“After officiating, we’d see each other at all the meetings, camps and clinics and it solidified our friendship. We’d go over rules and talk about game situations and go back and review a call, maybe see it from a couple different angles, slowing it down,” Maxfield said. “A lot, because of COVID, has changed and we do some stuff online.”

When he began, Title IX allowing female sports was developing as was female officiating.

“It used to be that there were officials who didn’t want to do women’s sports because the style of play is different, but now many, like me, do both. There are women officials who referee both; it’s personal preference. Both males and females are working officiating at the highest levels and that speaks well for our officiating community,” Maxfield said. “One of the most challenging parts is our numbers don’t necessarily grow as quickly as the number of schools that crop up so it’s a huge challenge. A lot of people work extra games during the week, to make sure that we can get every game covered.”

Even so, he spends time with newer referees to teach them.

“I’m a product of a lot of good officials who took the time to put their arm around me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this way? Why don’t you do this?’ I was flattered and humbled when I received this award. I am the official I am because of the guys who were before me who gave me their time and knowledge, so I try and pay that forward,” Maxfield said. “There’s a lot of things that take place on the officiating field that you’re not going to find in a rule book—how to deal with different types of situations, how to recognize when momentums have changed, and emotions have changed and being able to deal with it in the right way. This past month, I’ve spent some Saturdays at Junior Jazz, basketball games, working with these young high school officials who may want to pick up our trade. I just find joy in giving back and teaching trying to help what I know.”

While Maxfield has been invited to be an official for soccer, he instead, takes a “time out” to spend more time with his family.

“It gives me time to decompress. People don’t realize officials have meetings, there are rules to study, there are clinics. It’s a tremendous amount of time away from my family. All of us referees are making sacrifices to make sure it’s a great environment for kids,” Maxfield said. “This way, I can put away my shirt so when I pull it back out, there’s excitement and enthusiasm to get back going again.”