Friday, October 31, 2008

Referees Weren't Always Faceless, Nameless Robots

Before we got ourselves in a big hurry to be professional referees, we used to be human beings with real jobs and real personalities. Don't construe that thought to mean referees haven't evolved for the better with a higher degree of professionalism. As a matter of record, quite to the contrary, we have. I'm saying that there was a day when it was accepted, even expected, to show your human side as you officiated a ball game.

If you have children who graduated from one of the high schools in Dearborn, you probably know of Arella Studios and owner Angelo Arella. Located near the intersection of Military and Michigan behind the train tracks, Arella's operation has been a Dearborn institution for over 70 years. But like so many of his peers, Arella remains a proud graduate of his high school, Dearborn's Fordson High, and he spun some yarn Tuesday of an official who was working for the downtown newspaper as he refereed a big ballgame and in the process, helped push a young teenager into a life as a photographer.
Working as a cub photographer for his school's yearbook, the Fleur De Lis, Arella was shooting a game between the Tractors and Grosse Pointe High from the endzone at Fordson. The Pointers held a 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter when Fordson began marching down the field late in the annual Border Cities League (BCL) game between the two rival schools. One of the game's officials was none other than George Maskin, who at that time worked on the sports staff as an editor for the now-defunct Detroit Times.
The drive culminated when the Fordson tailback thundered into the endzone to tie the game. As the extra point was being converted, Maskin shot a quick question toward the young journalist: "Hey kid, did you get that touchdown?" Arella replied, Yeah, I got the touchdown." So Maskin tells Arella to give him the plate and he'll run the picture in the paper tomorrow -- and pay him $15 to boot!
"I can't give you this plate. My father bought it for me and he'll never let me back in the house if I don't come home with it," Arella explained. "OK, kid, then come downtown tonight. You can produce the photo yourself, write the cutline and I'll make sure you get paid." Arella thought that was a fair deal until he arrived at the plant to find the paper's union members weren't so generous with him. "There was no way I was going to let one of them produce it because they would end up telling Maskin the plate was bad and there was no picture -- I knew that much was certain," Arella remembers. Anyway, Maskin asked Arella for all his information and ran the picture. Arella got a nice photo credit and got paid, too.
The next week, Arella was at home when the phone rang with a deep-throated, nameless voice on the other end.
"Hey kid, Inkster High is playing a big game tomorrow afternoon. We don't have anyone to shoot it. We could use two or three photos..." The caller hung up just as quickly. Arella immediately knew who it was and went down to shoot the game. In an amazing coincidence, his work was published in the Times, and he got paid again.
There's a lesson to be learned in all this. I wrote about connections earlier in the week with Paul Kinder, the former Dearborn HS basketball captain, (pictured above wearing the black jersey No. 14) being remembered as a highly-regarded sports official. That's Kinder and his Pioneers hosting city rival Edsel Ford in the 1955-56 season. It's a small world and we all have a contribution to make in our own, individual way. Sometimes, though, that gets stifled in our mission to be the good soldier.
Using today's standards in officiating, Maskin's advance might be seen as unscrupulous or unprofessional. In the 1950s, it was merely a guy just getting his day job done. But what did it do? It brought some good press to some students from Fordson and Grosse Pointe. It gave a young kid a sense of accomplishment. Today you can walk into Arella Studios and find a man who enjoys his work and remembers his time as a photo journalist with an easy smile.
Is that so bad?
Of course, with power comes responsibility. Some abuse it. Some use it to strong-arm others. Maskin? He was an editor who threw a kid a bone. More than 50 years later, it's another great story of how prep sports can positively affect someone.
Photo courtesy of The Lil' Cafe, on Michigan Avenue in downtown Dearborn, Michigan. The Lil' Cafe is home to the Dearborn High School Hall Of Fame.
~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, released in August '08 from Arcadia Publishing. A follow-up title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, is due in August 2009.

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