by Lauren Crowell, 12

Everyone knows that the ultimate goal of any high school sports team is to make it to the state tournament, like our Lady Bulldogs did last year. At every game are officials who have dedicated their free time, efforts, gas money, and expertise to facilitate fair competition among athletes. Without the officials, there is no game.

Behind the scenes, there is more to officiating than you may realize. For football, officials are not hired individually. Instead, they must be part of a “crew” which they have selected and formed themselves. They sign a crew contract with their football association – in addition to taking tests to prove their knowledge, attending rules and regulations meetings, and buying their own equipment for the job.

There are also a lot of responsibilities when it comes to preparing for a game. The night before the game, the referees must prepare all equipment by having it cleaned and polished. On the day of the game, they leave work early if necessary to travel to the location of the game. The crew rides together to the game while discussing rules and mechanics for the game. When the time comes, they take the field to perform pregame duties, observe for illegal equipment on players, and watch for game tendencies. After this they will meet the head coach and the ball boys. They start the game and communicate with other officials, players, coaches, chain crew, and fans: verbally and through signals.

Throughout the season, the crews are evaluated by MSHSAA to ensure their efficiency and accuracy. The ref crews are even scored and ranked – and MSHSAA uses this data to select which crew will officiate the State football games.

This year, a local referee crew made it all the way to state. The Sibley Crew attended their third state game, officiating the Class 6 State Football Championship game at Mizzou featuring Christian Brothers College & Lees Summit North. They were selected by the Director of Officials at MSHSAA based on their crew ratings (as mentioned above) and coaches recommendations.

Gary Benham said, “Refereeing that game was a wonderful experience. The atmosphere in the stadium is amazing. The fans and players make the game a complete joy to work. We have seen some tremendous athletes through the years at the state level. Not all crews ever get to work a championship game, so we take great pride in being selected.”

The Sibley Crew is made up of five individuals, three of which are El Dorado Springs alumni!

Kirk Sibley (EHS Class of 1976) is the Referee, Kevin Costello (EHS Class of 1981) is the Umpire, Gary Benham (a Stockton graduate) is the Head Linesman, Craig Kelley (a Monett graduate)  is the Line Judge, and Jeff Hughes (EHS Class of 1989) is the Back Judge.

The Sibley Crew began with Kirk Sibley, Kevin Costello, and Gary Benham. Kirk Sibley has officiated football for over 40 years. Sibley, Costello, and Benham have been together as a crew for 27 years. Jeff Hughes joined the crew in 2017 and Craig Kelley joined the crew three years ago.

Their job comes with a lot of responsibility. Gary Benham explains that he was drawn to this job because of his past experience as a football player. “I always enjoyed playing football and decided when my work schedule allowed, to give back to the game that I love. There is such a shortage of officials that I plan to officiate until I am ineffective.”

But officiating isn’t all pressure and stress – and part of the reason the crew has so much fun is because they’re also really good friends. Gary Benham said, “We have a lot of fun joking with each other going to and coming home from games and meetings. We hold ‘court’ for any infractions other members of the crew have on and off the field, which extends from inadvertent whistles to what attire someone may be wearing. It is all in good fun.”

Outside of their time working together, each Sibley Crew member has a career of his own. Kirk Sibley had been the President of St. Clair County State Bank in Osceola for 40 years. Kevin Costello is the Director of Nursing Home admissions at CMH in Bolivar. Gary Benham is the Plant Manager of the Witt Printing Company in El Dorado Springs. Craig Kelley is the Director of Clinics for Cox Health Systems in Springfield. Jeff Hughes is a part of the Landscaping and Mowing Services in El Dorado Springs.

Each of them have their own lives, their own families, careers, and hobbies – but they come together each football season to become the Sibley Crew.