There may not be a local football team going to the state championship this year, but Lincolnton and Maiden will still be represented on the field.
Kevin Sanders, administrative assistant with the City of Maiden, and Don Bias, a Lincolnton doctor, will both serve as officials for the championship game this Saturday in Durham.
â€œItâ€™s a great honor,â€ Bias said. â€œItâ€™s a big deal for us.â€
Sanders is especially grateful for the opportunity. After 25 years of being an official, heâ€™s retiring.
â€œItâ€™s a great thing. He gets to do the state championship his last year, his last game,â€ Bias said.
Sanders blames age and the resulting soreness it causes after every game for his retiring.
â€œThese kids â€“ each year they stay 16, 17, 18 years old,â€ Sanders said. â€œI get older each year.â€
Being an official is a very physical job â€“ you have to get out of the playersâ€™ way and stay close enough to see the action.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to move quick,â€ Sanders said. â€œThe speed of these kids is unreal.â€
Both Sanders and Bias played football in high school, which resulted in a lifetime love for the sport.
â€œI always wish I had one more year in high school to play,â€ Bias said.
And while theyâ€™re unbiased on the field, they do often get swept up into the drama of the game.
â€œFootball games themselves, theyâ€™re just very enjoyable,â€ Bias said. â€œThe noise is exciting to me â€“ the noise, the bands. That stuffâ€™s exciting. It adds to the intensity of the game.â€
One thing both Bias and Sanders ignore, however, is the reaction of the crowd. Thereâ€™s no point to pleasing everyone in the stand.
â€œWho we want to please is our really good coaches, our really good players and ourselves,â€ Bias said.
Over the years, both Bias and Sanders have developed close relationships with the high school football community. Theyâ€™ve also witnessed the beginnings of some impressive football players. Some have gone on to make names for themselves in college football and even the NFL.
Over their decades of being officials, theyâ€™ve seen changes in the game â€“ the ball is passed more, players spread out more and players keep getting stronger and faster.
â€œNowadays, youâ€™ve got weightlifting and everything else,â€ Sanders said.
Neither one seems to mind giving up their Friday nights to football for four months. Instead, they feel lucky to be able to witness some great games. What are their best experiences on the field?
â€œThe teams are evenly matched, well-coached, and they donâ€™t have many mistakes,â€ Bias said. â€œWe like that.â€
Friday nights on the field arenâ€™t the only time officials have to give to their job. Theyâ€™re also required to go to rules clinics, take written tests, go to meetings and have supervisors grade them.
For the past three years Sanderâ€™s football season has â€œstarted in March.â€ Heâ€™s been serving as vice president, president and past president for the North Carolina State Football Officialâ€™s Association.
â€œHeâ€™s going to be a big loss for our organization,â€ Bias said.
by Sarah Grano