He’s a CPS Energy worker whose second job requires thick skin.
It’s a part-time job where customers call you vulgar, obscene names, bystanders throw objects at you, and after you clock out a security guard has to walk you to your car.
That’s the life of a high school football referee. And, Abraham Gallegos knows it all too well. “Officiating, like any sport, is demanding. It is always a no-win situation. Fifty percent of the fans are going to love you, while the other 50… well, let’s just say not so much,” he says.
Gallegos, an environmental coordinator, initially took to the gridiron job as a way to earn some extra cash. But after 34 years, he realizes the gig has given him a unique perspective about sports, people and joint pain.
“I know when I retire from officiating, I will look back at all the sacrifices I have made for the sport, the aches and pains I have endured, the countless hours away from home,” Gallegos says. “But I will also look back at the lifelong friendships I have made, the respect I have earned through the years, and the players that I have been lucky to be on the same field with. It has been extremely rewarding. Absolutely!”
In high school football games there are five officials – the referee, a linesman, a line judge, umpire and a back judge. For more than 25 years, Gallegos worked as a linesman and line judge, which require massive amounts of running up and down the sidelines in an attempt to follow the action. “It got to a point where I had to really consider retiring because my knees couldn’t take it anymore.”
These days he works as the “white hat” – the game’s referee. It has extended his career because it requires less running. The state playoffs are winding to a close. While Gallegos won’t officiate in any of this year’s playoff games, he says he’s had his share of blown calls during the heat of the action. That takes us back to the notion that it’s a job that requires thick skin.
“One minute they love you, the next they hate you,” says Gallegos. “The players, coaches and fans are very passionate about their team’s success. It is always us five officials against everyone else.
“There were even a few times I told myself, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’ But then, there’s always a feeling of accomplishment when you walk, or run after the crowd has turned on you, off the field.
“There’s a sense of pride. You and your fellow officials just did something that only a few are willing to do. You are part of a small group of men and women who are willing to put themselves out for continuous scrutiny – all for the love of the game.”