0

Hanging up their whistles

Dedicated in many ways, Smith and Hukari ready for change of pace

Wayne Smith (left) and Phil Hukari officiating a football game.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
Wayne Smith (left) and Phil Hukari officiating a football game.

After decades of donning black-and-white uniforms and chasing players up and down the field, throwing flags, counting yards, calling first downs and touchdowns and rousing the scorn of many thousands of spectators, Phil Hukari and Wayne Smith are hanging up their whistles.

The two Hood River men called their final football games last month, and they say although they’ll miss the intimate relationship referees have with the sport, they’re ready for a change of pace.

Both have long been fixtures of the local sports community, first as athletes, then as coaches, volunteers and referees. They been involved in a variety of sports over the years, but like many who watched and played the game growing up, football has always held a special place in their lives.

For Hukari, a retired Hood River Valley High School teacher, the story dates back to the late 1960s, when he played basketball, baseball and football for the Hood River Blue Dragons. By 1975 he was out of college and on the football field as an official for the Mid-Columbia Association. For Smith, who will retire from teaching at Hood River Middle School this June, the love affair with football started in the 1970s, as a junior high school student in Canyonville and a high school student in Umpqua. By 1984 he was officiating with the Mid-Columbia Association alongside Hukari.

Fast-forward to last month, when the two officiated a junior varsity matchup between the Eagles and the Hermiston Bulldogs. After HRV squeaked out the win, the guys two sat down for dinner to commemorate their final game together after 30 years on the gridiron.

They also took the time to answer a few questions about themselves, their experiences and the local football community. Their answers are below.

Wayne Smith

What is your background in football?

I started playing football in Junior High School in the little town of Canyonville, Oregon. I started coaching football at the middle school level when I attended Judson Baptist College ,when they located from Portland to The Dalles in the fall of 1980. Then I was recruited to coach at Wahtonka High School. I was then hired as a teacher in Hood River., where I coached Hood River Middle School teams for over 25 years. Coaching Middle School football and basketball allowed me the opportunity to officiate and serve as the commissioner of both the Mid-Columbia Football and basketball Officials Association for many years.

When, where and why did you start officiating football?

I started officiating right here for the Mid Columbia officials in 1984. I officiated to simply give back to the game I loved. There is nothing like being on the field working with the athletes and watching them give it their all.

What is your athletic background, both in football and other sports?

I have always been involved in sports my entire life, from Little League all the way through college. I was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, basketball and baseball). When you grow up in a small town, you called the guys and met down at the field. Whatever the sport season was that’s what you did together.

I ended up getting a scholarship to play baseball for four years at Judson Baptist College.

What is your coaching history, both in football and other sports?

From 1980-2009 I coached football; from 1985-1988 I coached track; from 1997-2011 I coached softball and from 1980 to now I have coached baseball.

What role have sports, and football in particular, had in your lives, both as an athlete and as a coach, mentor and official?

The biggest role has to be relationships. Life is about relationships ... it’s about embracing all the good through relationships. I have made lifetime friendships with a lot of amazing coaches, players and officials through sports and we have shared happy times and sad moments together. The relationships we built and the stories we have will last a lifetime.

If you have one, what was the most memorable game you officiated, and why?

This is easy: St. Paul vs. Days Creek, sometime in the mid-‘90s. It was a mudbowl game in the rodeo grounds at St. Paul. The game was a blowout in favor of Days Creek, but the best moment came when Days Creek let the younger kids play in the third quarter. They were in clean, bright white uniforms and the right-end for Days Creek only had one arm. On the first play from scrimmage the one-armed boy ran a down-and-out-and-up pattern and caught the ball with his one arm and ran for about a 80-yard touchdown. The entire stadium stood and clapped for such an amazing play. It was a great moment.

Sports bloopers are always funny; tell us a story about your best “referee blooper.”

One of the funniest moments I can remember really was not about me; I was the white hat who had to witness the situation though. It was a very cold night in Sherman County when my umpire came running to me in fright. Quietly confiding in me, he said he just had an “oopsy poopsie.” He said “Smitty, I have seven layers to keep warm. Is it showing through my white knickers?” Officials just don’t leave the field in the middle of a game. He survived the rest of the half; though uncomfortably I’m sure.

What are a few of your favorite things about officiating?

Relationships, for sure. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and lifetime friends through sport.

What are a few of your least favorite things about officiating?

Rainy nasty weather and rule-ignorant boo birds. It’s amazing how adamant some people can be and they just don’t know or understand rules.

From your perspective, how have you seen young football players change over the years?

The young players are playing a different style of play right now. I think that living in the weight room to get bigger and stronger was huge in my day and the same is true today. Athletes only improve physically if they are willing to put the time in to get quicker and stronger and it was true for me in the ‘70s. I don’t see the young kids playing pick-up games down on the football field anymore. That used to be the norm. The other critical factor for well-rounded athletes is athletics at the middle school level. We need to put the sports back in the schools. Education and school athletics do go hand in hand; you cannot put a dollar value on that.

After watching so many kids come and go and grow up playing sports in Hood River, what message would you pass on to them?

That they be grateful to those around them who contribute to their athletic experience. Parents, community, local businesses, family, school teachers, school administrators, game officials, transportation department and coaches (and coaches families) all sacrifice to make sure they have athletic programs for kids.

How about to parents?

Pour your love into your kids. The more you are engaged in their lives, in all aspects, the better. And game days are family days! A supported kid will appreciate that forever.

And to coaches?

This is a loaded question. After 35 years of coaching and 31 years of officiating I could write a book. I would have to say thank you for giving your time, for the countless and thankless hours of commitment that noone truly gets unless they have been there themselves.

And to the community?

A community that fully supports their schools and kids in all aspects is making an investment that cannot be fully measured. I am grateful for those who understand the values and efforts of school programs and strive to make them happen.

Phil Hukari

What is your background in football?

My background in football consists of playing high school football at old Hood River High School, where I graduated in 1969. I was a receiver and loved the teamwork and challenge of the game. Scoring a touchdown is one of the biggest thrills in athletics.

When, where and why did you start officiating football?

I started officiating football in 1975 for the Mid Columbia Association. I’ve been officiating since, although I took a couple of years off to coach high school football in the early ‘80s.

Do you remember the first football game you ever officiated?

One of the first games I officiated was a varsity game between HRVHS and Astoria. I remember I had a pass interference call waved away by a senior official even though I knew I had the correct call.

What is your athletic background, both in football and other sports?

I played baseball, basketball, and football in high school for the Blue Dragons. I went on to play JV basketball at OCE (now Western Oregon) and four years of baseball in which I lettered my senior year for the Wolves. I was a shortstop and my nickname was “E” for obvious reasons dubbed by my teammates.

What is your coaching history, both in football and other sports?

I have coached football, basketball, baseball, and softball in my 50-plus years of living in the valley. I started coaching Babe Ruth baseball while still attending college. I coached B-team basketball at Hood River Junior High and moved up with the program. I was a freshman, junior varsity baseball coach, assistant and head basketball for both the girls and boys programs at Hood River Valley High School. I was then the varsity HRV softball coach for 18 years. I coached middle school football and a little high school football as well. I am currently coaching middle school basketball again.

What role have sports, and football in particular, had in your lives, both as an athlete and as a coach, mentor and official?

I love officiating because I see it as an extension of my competition days. I am pretty intense, but still like to add some humor to the sport. What a great way to give back to the Mid-Columbia and all that Hood River has given me.

What was the biggest/most important game you ever officiated?

I have worked many state playoff games until recently when my commitment to helping with the radio broadcasts of HRV varsity football and my senior citizen status has limited my ability to officiate at a high quality.

If you have one, what was the most memorable game you officiated, and why?

The most memorable game was a state playoff between Corbett and Oakridge played in a driving, cold downpour; no lines on the field were visible and the field was 4 inches of mud. The capper was there was no hot water following the game for showers.

If you have one, what was the worst game you officiated, and why?

The worst game was when the referee I was working with wore a witch’s hat to the LaSalle/The Dalles game on Halloween night. It only went downhill after that.

Sports bloopers are always funny; tell us a story about your best “referee blooper.”

I have been pretty lucky; the worse blooper was calling inadvertent whistle after an interception during a game at Goldendale. It was just a small tweet, but players slowed down so I just blew my whistle as loud as possible to stop the play and live with the shame.

What are a few of your favorite things about officiating?

My favorite things about officiating is the involvement with the players and the camaraderie with my fellow officials. The teamwork and joy is special.

What are a few of your least favorite things about officiating?

Officiating is always stressful and many times unpopular with fans, players, coaches and parents. You try to administer the game, not impact the outcome.

From your perspective, how have you seen young football players change over the years?

Players do not exhibit the same passion for the sport as years in the past. I think parents are also less supportive of the coaching staff and their role in athletics.

What are some of the biggest changes in the sport you have witnessed?

The rules have changed greatly during my career; games seem longer. Officials are less respected and harder to keep involved.

After watching so many kids come and go and grow up playing sports in Hood River, what message would you pass on to them?

Hood River is one of the most wonderful sports towns in the Northwest. We have a great competitive tradition. I hope kids develop the passion and commitment to the town and school that has been so evident in the past.

How about to parents?

Parents need to be more tolerant and supportive of the coaches and school. View the sport through the eyes of the coach and administrator, not through the eyes of a parent only. See the big picture.

And to coaches?

Coaches need to put their ego aside and support the kids and all their hard work.

And to the community?

The community needs to again support the school. The local schools need to be the center of activities for the entire area. Renew the tradition of high school athletics and community involvement. Rally around your sports teams.

Comments

Comments are subject to moderator review and may not appear immediately on the site. A user's first several comments must be manually approved by a moderator.

Please read our commenting policy before posting.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment