June 17, 2014

High school official sees positive side of tough job

It’s been said that the best sports officials are the ones you never notice, the implication being that referees become more visible during a game when they make mistakes.

Greg Norton, a member of the Northwest Georgia Football Officials Association (NWGFOA) — whose coverage area includes the high schools in Murray and Whitfield counties — is among those who would prefer not to be noticed by fans when he steps on the field on Friday nights. But Norton, who’s from Blue Ridge, was noticeable for positive reasons as he recently received some recognition in Dalton.

Norton received the Football Officials of the Year award last month at the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association’s annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony and awards luncheon at the trade center. He was one of 10 officials in nine sports recognized, with Jill Poole of the Southeastern Officials Association was named as the overall Official of the Year.

While staying unnoticed by fans may be a goal, officials must interact with athletes and coaches to make sure a game runs smoothly. Norton enjoys that aspect of the job because he can have impact on players for the right reasons.

“The (officials) who are great communicators are very good officials,” he said. “As long as they communicate and do it with honesty, in most cases you are going to get a professional response from the coaches we have to deal with. ... My wife asked me, ‘Why do you continue to officiate?’ Young people need a positive influence in their lives, and it goes a long way. That is really rewarding to be a positive influence, and I hope I am.”

Norton considered the award an asset for the entire NWGFOA.

“There are a lot of guys that certainly deserve an award like this, but to be chosen is certainly an honor for me and for our group,” Norton said. “It is pretty humbling and very rewarding for all the hard work you do.”

A graduate of Fannin County High School, Norton said the ceremony was even more memorable as former coach Johnny Farmer — a head basketball coach at Fannin County for 20 years — was inducted into the GACA Hall of Fame that day.

“I have known him a long time, and that was kind of neat for both of us to be together,” Norton said.

Norton understands — perhaps better even than some of his fellow officials — the scope of the work the NWGFOA does. For the past few years, he has been the assigning secretary for the association, which means he is responsible for making sure that all of the games covered by the NWGFOA are fully staffed. With the 120-plus members of the NWGFOA covering 27 high schools, that is a lot of responsibility.

However, being an NWGFOA official isn’t just about Friday night varsity action.

“I get phone calls all the time from people wanting us to provide officials for games,” Norton said. “We call everything from the recreation leagues to middle school games and freshman and junior varsity games. The game needs us and we need the game.

“For me, when I took the job of assigning secretary, I had no idea how close this position worked with the coaches. I have gained a deeper respect for what they do, and in turn I think they have a deeper respect for what we do.”

But with all of those games come many challenges, and numbers is one of them.

“We are always looking for people who are looking to be in officiating,” Norton said. “We are the guys that everyone loves to hate, but they can’t play the games without us. I have been doing this for a long time and it is as close to the game as you can get without actually playing.”

The NWGFOA will hold a membership recruitment cookout on June 30 at Indian Trace Golf Club in Chatsworth. Members will tee off at 1 p.m., with the cookout scheduled for 6:30 at the club’s pavilion. To learn more, go online to

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