The story below is courtesy of Mary Kaull, communications coordinator for Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to the RPS blog, and follow RPS on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Photo courtesy of Alan Leon.
Less than 5 percent of referees for the Illinois High School Association are in Orintho Farris’ age range -- 17-18 years old. He may be in a small group, but Farris—an Auburn High School senior—knows he’s well-suited for the job.
“I’m all about the rules. If it’s not by the book, I’m not going to do it,” Farris said.
Farris officiates basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball and football. This year, the Rockford Public Schools student has worked mostly at freshman-sophomore and junior varsity games, but recently he officiated his first varsity volleyball game.
If he’s all about the rules, he’s all about the preparation, too. Farris typically watches videos of the teams a week before his jobs so he’s familiar with the style of play and any tricky things to watch for.
Joe Keller runs the local basketball officials association and has been a referee in the area for 26 years. He said Farris has been known to attend games he’s not working so he can learn. Farris’ dedication and commitment is rare, Keller said, even among more seasoned officials.
A lot of people can’t handle the pressure. “You have to learn how to be a counselor—the game management,” Keller said.
Those skills neatly carry over to Farris’ ultimate goal: to be a high school principal.
It hasn’t all been a slam dunk. Farris said he’s still learning from his on-the-job mistakes. A fight broke out with 4.3 seconds left on the clock at a game he recently officiated.
Even though no one was hurt, Farris keeps replaying the fight and wondering how he could have prevented it. “It should have never happened,” he said. “It was the hardest day in my officiating career so far.”
He takes refuge in his favorite inspirational saying: Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring.
Keller, for his part, is inspired by Farris, who turns up promptly at every game he’s assigned, no excuses. Farris doesn't know how many games he’s refereed, even though he’s had his IHSA credentials for only a year.
“Too many to count,” he said.