They’ve Been Doing What for 50 Years?
Doing anything for 50 straight years is incredible. But these two men have achieved something not very many, anywhere can claim to have done. These two have officiated high school football in Western New York for 50 years.
For one it's the end of the road. For the other, he intends to keep going as long as his mind and body cooperate. With the harsh weather, insults from fans, abuse from coaches, officiating isn't for everyone. But there's another side to officiating that has kept these two men coming back for more, every year for 50 years; the life-long friends they've made.
Pat Dempsey and Paul Gagliardi are two of the nicest and classiest men you'd ever want to meet. Their personalities are perfect for what it takes to be a sports official. Their calm demeanor and sense of humor have always been an aid in digging themselves out of any tough situation during a game. And neither has ever been at a loss for words to say.
Both have been members of the Western New York Certified Football Officials since 1969. Think of that. What were you doing in 1969? Were you even born yet? Not only have they been officiating football, but they've been good at it. Both have been recipients of the WNYCFO Richard E. Leous award, recognizing them as the best of the best football officials in the chapter.
Paul Gagliardi says there's one game that stands out in his mind. It was a state championship game that he did at the Syracuse dome involving Christian Brothers Academy and New Rochelle around 2002 or 2003. Running back Ray Rice who went on to a career and Super Bowl championship with the Baltimore Ravens was in the backfield for New Rochelle.
He says a key moment in the game was a measurement where the forward rod was placed next to the ball it was so close he had to get down on his hands and knees and still couldn't decide whether or not it was a first down. So he pulled out an index card from his pocket and placed it between the front of the ball and the stake and determined it was a first down the other way.
Last year, NFL referee Gene Steratore used the same technique in a key measurement in a game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders. The story went viral and Paul is convinced that Steratore was inspired to use that technique after somehow seeing it during that high school game years ago.
When is he going to know his career is over? For Gagliardi it's a tough question because he doesn't know how to say goodbye. He hopes it never gets to the point where he's told you don't belong on the field anymore. But as long as he still has the passion for it and is still physically able, he'll continue to do it. But that tough decision will come just like it did for Pat Dempsey.
Pat said he knew it was time when his right leg wasn't moving as fast as his left one. He said with the pain in his right knee and knowing he can't run as fast as he used to, he said "enough is enough."
He still has the passion for the game, he loves the game, he's gonna miss it when he's gone, but he'll stick around in some capacity; as an advisor, an observer, something.
At that point he got emotional thanking the officials he's worked with over the years, especially those who showed up to be there when he was presented a Section VI Football Federation Award during the Section VI championships over the weekend at New Era Field.
Dempsey says he can remember his very first varsity game was at Bishop Gibbons High School in North Tonawanda and the quarterback for that high school team went on to become a football official. And that young quarterback from so many years ago was on Dempsey's crew on his very last game. So it came full circle.
Other than the game and the adrenaline rush that comes with it, both men say the thing they will miss the most is the camaraderie from game to game, but they will always cherish the friendships they've made. Gagliardi says "this is a tight, strong, loving group. I've worked for other groups, but this is one special group of men."
Do you have what it takes to become a football official? The start of a 50-year career starts with the first year. Contact wnycfo.com and click on Recruiting for more information.