Nelson still in the “flow of the game” honored by the Georgia High School Association

Aug 6 — John Nelson, who was recently congratulated by the Georgia High School Association for half a century as an umpire and umpire, “I never thought I would stay that long, but I love it, and you have to love it. “

“Some nights you might not have had your best night, but you regroup because you can’t let a night ruin it,” said Nelson, who has lived in Dalton for over 50 years. “I was lucky and lucky.”

Nelson is “a legend,” and even after 50 years of officiating in various sports and receiving numerous honors, he will never turn down a request to referee a charity match, said Tom Pinson, who began officiating there. a quarter of a century after Nelson’s encouragement. Nelson does it “for the love of the game”.

Nelson has played basketball most of his life and started officiating in his early twenties in order to stay close to the game he loves so much. Basketball remained his favorite sport for umpiring, but he added baseball, softball, and soccer.

While football takes place one night a week, basketball officiating takes place three nights a week throughout the season, and “you could work every day” for baseball and softball, did -he declares. “You have to limit yourself.”

Basketball is the most physically demanding on the body, due to the constant running on the court, but Nelson has maintained officer status by walking, running and biking regularly, he said. , noting: “You have to prepare your body.”

This preparation is also necessary for the early season football games in the Georgia heat, he said.

“I have to drink water all week” so as not to get dehydrated.

Nelson made the 2020-21 season his last for basketball, baseball and softball, but he will continue with football, he said. “I thought 50 years was enough” of these other sports.

For five decades, Nelson has witnessed many changes, but none more so than in women’s basketball, which was a half-court game in its early days, with six players for each team on the court, three “forwards” who had to stay in their teams front court, and three “guards” who had to stay in their team’s backcourt, he said. “It was good to see that change,” and he also saw the introduction of the three-point line for boys and girls’ basketball.

Nelson would like to see high schools institute a stopwatch, like in college and pro basketball, he said.

“It would speed up the game and be good for the game.”

Softball and baseball umpires took Nelson across the country, from Waterloo, Iowa, to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He also umpired competitions at military bases in Utah and Florida, and was certified by the International Softball Federation – only the third person from Georgia to achieve this honor – so he could have umpired at the Olympics. , although he was never called. He is part of the National Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame, Georgia Softball Hall of Fame, and Dalton Parks and Recreation Softball Hall of Fame.

Although Nelson has heard his fair share of officials and insults over the decades, he has never felt connected to his race, and his physical presence, professionalism and approach are believed to have all played a role. in that.

A friend with whom he attended referee camps would often tell him, “John, as tall as you are, you won’t have any problem,” Nelson said with a laugh, 6 feet 7 inches tall.

Nelson always dressed professionally – his shoes “always shone” – and “he’s a rules authority,” said Pinson, director of the Mack Gaston Community Center. Nelson “always showed he knew his job and was there for the game.”

“Confidence is an important thing when you go out,” Pinson added. “People recognize ‘Oh, we have good officials today.'”

“When they give you that rulebook, don’t just throw it away,” Nelson said. “When you have time, take a look at it because you have to stay on the rules and you have to be sure” when discussing the rules with the coaches.

Just being prepared and on time goes a long way, said Nelson. He arrives at least 90 minutes before football kicks off to “sit down with the team and talk about our responsibilities in the game”.

Nelson has been a mentor for Pinson and many other officials, Pinson said.

“He told me it’s one of the best part-time jobs you could have, but don’t just be average. Go to umpire schools to be good. When you get better, people recognize it and ask you to take it to the next level. “

He’s always strived to improve, said Nelson. If a reviewer “told me something I needed to work on, I would take it.”

Early in his career, he watched reputable officials learn from them, he said.

“If this was someone I thought knew what he was doing, I would watch him.”

While “makeup calls” in sports are often speculated by fans, Nelson doesn’t believe it, he said.

“You just say, like fishing, ‘That one ran away’, but you don’t make it up.”

As an official, “the first thing you have to do is block the crowd,” said Nelson. “I’ve never watched them,” because if an official starts paying attention to the seconds in the stands, “you lose control of what you’re doing” on the pitch, on the pitch or on the pitch.

As for the argumentative coaches, “you tell them early to stop,” he said. “Otherwise, you (feel) the consequences.”

Nelson, whose flexible schedule as a truck driver has allowed him to officiate so many games, believes fans and coaches have become more disrespectful of officials over the years, leading to a shortage of officials. .

“The behavior of the parents is worse and some of the young coaches are really out of whack,” he said. Increasingly, it may be necessary to play more high school football games on nights other than Friday, as there are not enough officials to cover all of the Friday games.

Nelson never lost his zeal for officiating.

“You’re nervous all day before a big game, and it stays that way until you blow your first whistle,” he said. “Then you get into the flow of the game.”