By Carol McIntire
November 5, 2013
Sean Smith didn’t continue his football career beyond his freshman year in high school, but that didn’t stop him from participating in the game he loves for the past 29 years.
When the regular high school football season came to a close last weekend, Smith hung up his uniform – black pants and hat, striped shirt and whistle – for the last time.
“It’s been a blast,” the Carrollton resident and attorney said of his years as a high school official. “I’ll miss it, but it’s time to move on and do something different.”
Smith didn’t dream of being a high school official one day, actually he wanted to be a football player at Carrollton High School.
“I played football my seventh and eighth grade years and as a freshman,” he recalled sitting in his office chair with cherished sports photos and posters hanging on the wall behind him. “By my freshman year, all the kids kept getting bigger but I wasn’t.”
He decided to turn his attention to golf, a game he still enjoys today.
After graduation from CHS in 1974, he turned his attention to college, attending the College of Wooster and then Akron University where he received his law degree in 1981.
He returned to Carrollton to practice law and was a regular at Friday night football games.
“Here I was a single guy, going to football games on Friday night and looking for something more to do,” Smith said as a smile erupted across his face. “I saw an article in the Canton Repository seeking people interested in attending classes for the Eastern Ohio Football Officials Association (EOFOA). I signed up, took the classes, passed the test to get my license and began officiating youth football games.”
He spent many late afternoon and early evening hours officiating underclass games on the former football field at the Carroll County Fairgrounds, always as a back judge.
“I remember one game in particular,” he said leaning back in his chair. “It was an 8th grade game at the fairgrounds field. Carrollton was playing Northwest. The Carrollton team had already packed away its game jerseys for the year and they were wearing practice jerseys.
The Carrollton coach was yelling at me that a Northwest player was wearing number 62 in the backfield, which was a penalty, and telling me to throw a flag. I looked at the coach and told him I wasn’t throwing a flag on Northwest when the Carrollton players didn’t even have numbers on their jerseys!”
Smith spent his time officiating underclassmen games and when he met the necessary requirements, took the Class I test.
His first varsity game was at Sandy Valley. “At that time we had to change our clothes in the cafeteria at the school because there was no locker room,” he said. “I remember one game I officiated at the former Jewett-Scio High School. We had to get dressed in the high school and then walk across the road and down the street to the football field. When we got to the field, I realized I didn’t have my whistle; I left it in the locker room!”
Over the years, he has officiated games in several leagues, but the last several years have been spent mostly on fields in the Federal League, Northeastern Buckeye Conference (NBC) or independent games.
He has officiated three Stark County All Star games, two Times Reporter All Star games, two Dover-New Philadelphia games, playoff games, including a regional playoff game at Browns Stadium in Cleveland between Glenville and Solon during the month of November.
His work in the NBC has seen him assigned to several Carrollton games over the years.
“There’s one I’ll never forget,” he said shaking his head. “I was doing a Carrollton game my son was playing in. He came up to me and said, ‘hey, did you see my touchdown’? My response was uh, no, I was too into the game.”
He admits he has taken a lot of heckling from those standing along the sideline at Carrollton games.
“I’m known as “Smitty,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘hey Smitty, how could you not see that?” from the Carrollton sideline.
One of his favorite things about officiating is that you are almost always with the same five-man crew each week. “There are a lot of great officials out there and there is a lot of respect between officials and staff,” he noted. “I was very fortunate to have had Dick Szink select me for his crew when he was looking for a back judge.” For nearly 11 years the pair worked the same crew until Szink retired after 42 years as an official.
“You build a respect, a bond, a camaraderie with each other. It’s hard to explain,” he said.
Szink recalled the time when he “solicited” Smith for his crew.
“I had a back judge who moved on to the college ranks and I had my eye on Sean,” recalled the Canton man. “I wanted someone who was not only a good official, but a good man. Sean was the person I wanted. I had to do a lot of pollying to get him, but in the end I did.”
He credits Smith with being the reason he stayed on an extra three years as a high school official. “He kept me young,” Szink said. “Not only is he an excellent attorney, he’s a good human being.
Saying he wanted to get one last jab in at his old friend, he continued, “The only problem is he’s a Republican!”
Danny Nero, who has spent the last 10 years officiating on the same crew with Smith, set the record straight. “Dick is a staunch Democrat and Sean always had a joke about attorneys and Democrats,” he said with a laugh.
Nero had the highest words of praise for his fellow official. “He is such a class act and an awesome guy,” he said. “I came in to the crew as a young official. He was so patient. If I blew a call, he would come up and ask, ‘what did you see over there?’ He helped you learn and expressed himself in a way that didn’t make you feel like you just got thumped.”
Nero said Smith has also been a boost to the Carrollton economy, especially this year.
“In the past he always brought Betty Kaye brownies to a game,” he said. “My wife bakes cookies every Friday for us, so the brownies weren’t an every game thing, but he always brought the regular kind. This year, he’s brought brownies to every game, and he’s brought a variety. I never knew there were that many kinds of brownies!”
When asked how he knew it was time to retire, Smith said his 57-year-old body is telling him it’s time.
“Years ago I would just show up and be ready for the game,” he said. “Then came several years of exercising at the Aultman Fitness Center and some running because a back judge covers a lot of ground. It’s funny, you know, I look at those kids out there year after year. They stay the same age. I think my face stays the same, but I am aging. It’s time to move on, play with the grandkids and take my wife on that fall vacation she’s been waiting on. Maybe I’ll even take in a Carrollton football game or two.”