(KJCCC) January 16, 2017 - One week ago, when America was settling in to watch the NCAA college football playoff championship game between Alabama and Clemson, the game officiating crew had been in preparation for a month. It may be said they had been in preparation for many years, as the crew was filled with well-seasoned veterans, officials who had worked their way through the ranks to reach the collegiate football pinnacle.
Joe Blubaugh, Robert Richeson, and Mark Stewart were on that officiating crew, and work on a crew with referee Mike Defee in the Big 12 Conference. They also served on officiating crews in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) earlier in their officiating careers.
"In the KJCCC, those three learned how to officiate," said Craig Helser, supervisor of KJCCC football officials. "Our guys really learn mechanics, study their rules, and understand penalty enforcement."
"No matter who you are, when you start your first college game, you're not ready," said football umpire Richeson. "But the KJCCC gave me two good years' experience. They gave me a great opportunity."
"We have a good plan," said KJCCC Commissioner Bryce Roderick. "We get our officials prepared. Craig (supervisor Helser) does a nice job with them. All this preparation allows them to be ready for the season."
Every year the KJCCC has a rigid and thorough two-and-a-half day preseason football officials clinic organized by Helser. Richeson returns every year as a clinician, as do his fellow KJCCC alumni Blubaugh and Stewart. Also serving the clinics are Big 12 referee Defee, and Big 12 crew members Mike Moeller and Dan Scanlon. Other clinicians come from the Big 10, the Mountain West, the Southland, the Southeastern (SEC), Heart of America, and MIAA conferences.
"Every year, going back to that clinic helps us to get ready," said Richeson, a Garden City Community College graduate. "We get out on the field and officiate too."
"Nobody else has a clinic as good as ours," said Helser. "Officials learn a lot from our clinics and quality clinicians, and then they pass it on."
"We grow our officials in our great competitive games," said Roderick. "This then allows them to advance further."
Helser agrees with Roderick on the officials' growth.
"All three of those guys, Richeson, Blubaugh, and Stewart, have a drive to move up. They have what I call 'swagger.' They are not at all cocky, but they have confidence in themselves and in their abilities," said Helser. "And those three will also work with our current conference officials to help them get better."
Richeson recalls his start as a football official.
"In Andale (Kan.), I had been a football coach. That changed, but then I missed football. My athletic director there had a flier that said 'Officials Needed,' and I begam to officiate, and develop relationships with other officials," said Richeson.
He now plans to continue to progress as an official.
"I plan to be among the best officials at this level," said Richeson.
Does he have any thoughts on working in the pros, the National Football League?
"Anyone working in the NCAA has got to say they have thought about it," said Richeson. "I have been contacted."
(In the photo, L to R, Robert Richeson, Umpire; Mike Moeller, Head Linesman; Dan Scanlon, Center Judge; Anthony Fleming, Side Judge; Mike Defee, Referee; Cooper Castleberry, Alternate; Joe Blubaugh, Field Judge; Mark Stewart, Line Judge; and Joel Wetzel, Back Judge)