The 36th annual NASO Summit concluded in New Orleans at the end of July. Sports officiating leaders from across the United States and Canada attended. We caught up with three state leaders to see what they thought about the Summit in general, how the sessions impacted them and what they brought back to their membership: Dana Pappas, commissioner of officials/deputy director of the New Mexico Activities Association; Jason Nickleby, Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) director of officials; and Mike Fitch, executive director of the Texas Association of Sports Officials.

What was most unique to you about this year’s Summit?

Pappas: Each Summit has its own different “flavor,” with this year being no different in that regard. This was the 15th consecutive Summit I have attended and each year has its own unique feel to it. The fact that the Louisiana High School Officials Association hosted their Officiate Louisiana Day themselves showed how much pride individuals have in officiating and how important and special high school officials are. The talk that we aren’t “just” high school officials was prevalent throughout the Summit. The celebration of officials each year at the Gala is so special because we, as a community, need to always ensure that we recognize and value our officials. The camaraderie among the attendees is special each year. There is nothing else like it and there is no better place for people from our industry to learn from one another, to celebrate each other, to problem solve and to set goals for ourselves as individuals and state associations.

Nickleby: Compared to other Summits, this one had unique and additional engagement for attendees. Panel and individual speakers were great, however there was more involvement for the audience, and that was a plus. The “live” vote on plays and the breakouts to provide feedback engaged attendees, making the Summit more effective and it worked out really well.

Fitch: All associations face the same problems, and we’re trying to solve them similarly, but we’re not all the same. I like what Michigan is doing — giving out postcards to coaches to use them to get in touch with high school kids. We will add that to our STaRT (Students Today are Referees Tomorrow) program. Working with B2B (Battlefields to Ballfields) is good for all us — military veterans, associations and the schools. Many states have similar problems and solutions, but we need to fine-tune programs to local circumstances.

What message did you bring back to your state association?

Pappas: I came back to New Mexico with the intent and mission of rebranding what we do and focusing on all of the good that occurs in officiating. We all know the negative side of what we do, so it is time for everyone to take a minute to remember and celebrate
the many positive things that come from officiating — the friendships, the road trips, the unique service officials provide to kids (at the state association level), having the best seat in the house for games, staying active in sports we love. Each summer, the Summit is the recharge that administrators need to ready their officials for another season. This year’s Summit gave the same rejuvenation to all who attended.

Nickleby: The message I got last year and was firmed up again this year for our state association i that we need to adjust our model to recruit officials from a target audience perspective. We have been going after the college kids or recent grads. We still want them. But the statistics bear out that the parents of kids graduating from high school are strong candidates as prospective officials. We need to change our mindset on who and how to reach them as a state association. We
need to determine the route to do that and how to engage them in officiating opportunities in our state.

Fitch: I liked the mentoring programs. We have 157 chapters throughout Texas that vary in size, from less than 20 to more than 1,000, which makes one model very difficult, so we will work on a statewide template they can modify. Let them know the things they can do, then let them decide.

How will you be able to use your Summit experience to help “Say Yes to Officiating” in your state?

Pappas: We are utilizing the “Say Yes to Officiating” hashtag for our recruitment and retention videos to our current officials, prospective officials and our member schools. We have asked our officials to send us 30-second videos of themselves explaining what their yes to officiating is — why they got started, why they continue to officiate, why they love it. We have encouraged them to incorporate their crews on road trips or to film themselves and their partners/ crews before or after contests. We need to all remember why this isf un. Attending this year’s Summit reminded me that the best way to tell the story of officiating isthrough our officials and the best representatives we have to “sell” this profession/avocation to others is by hearing from and seeing our officials enjoying the experience. Part of this process is the humanization of officials — showing “Joe Sports Fan” that officials are humans, who are enjoying what they do!

Nickleby: There are some personal lessons I took away that I would extrapolate to the state level. Many people have said “yes” to me in my officiating career, and we need to encourage our veterans to say “yes” to other officials — both current and prospective. We need to increase our drive on mentorship, developing interpersonal relationships and game management skills. On a personal level, people have said “yes” to me, and I want to see officials at all levels of MSHSL programs start saying “yes” to others and keep this movement going.

Fitch: From the TASO perspective, we bring association officers to expose them to the Summit experience. This year we had the president-elect for football and vice president of baseball
attend. Neither had been to a Summit before. They were skeptical beforehand, thinking it was mostly for and about professional sports officials, wondering if they’d learn anything. During breaks we would talk and you could feel their excitement through what they’d learned and the relationships they’d developed. Those are always positive things. The two people I brought the previous year had the same feelings. Next year, we’d like toexpand our sponsorship so we can send four people.