Major Milestone: High school ref marks 50 years in the game

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The faces of Friday night change over the years - new band members, players, and cheerleaders - but one has stayed the same.

Randy Gregg is in his 50th season officiating football in Kansas.

"I went to sign up to referee basketball and they said, 'We're short on football officials. Would you be interested in working football?' Well, I always loved football but I wasn't very big in high school so I couldn't play football, but I told them yeah, I'd referee football," Randy recalls.

Five decades later, he's still tackling the challenge.

"I just have a great time. The guys I work with are great guys," Randy said. "It does keep me young. Everybody says, 'You're 72?' and I say, 'Well, yeah' and they say, 'You look younger than that,' and I say, 'Well, it must be from running around on the football field all this time.'"

Randy figures he's refereed more than 2000 games in 50 years. With 40 players on a team, that's some 160,000 young lives touched.

"Most of the kids are really good to interact with," he said. "I have a good time with them in the field. You want to do a good job for them and you want them to do a good job for you."

Randy's worked plenty of big games - four 6A state title match ups and an NAIA college national championship among them. But his most memorable had nothing to do with the game itself.

"I was out at Washburn Rural Middle School with my partner Rod McMaster and his son Tyler, and Rod just dropped dead on the football field. He had a massive heart attack and died instantly, right on the spot," Randy recalls. "I'd been with him 40 years, so it was a tough time. We had a game the next night but we worked it because we knew he'd want us to work it - he'd be ashamed of us if we didn't."

In some ways, it seems, football is like life.

"People are running into you and hitting you, and they just bounce up like nothing happened," Randy says.

He has signed on for at least one more season. And it's not just Friday nights - he's often busy with middle school, freshman, or JV games three or four other days a week. After this year, he'll scale back, maybe do some traveling with his wife.

And if you don't notice whether he's part of the weekly game time scene - that's okay.

"If they don't remember I'm here, that's probably a good thing," he said. "They remember the bad calls, they don't remember all the good calls. If they don't know I was here tonight, I did a good job."