I've been feeling old lately. The cold makes the joints in my feet ache and yeah, I had a birthday this week, but that's not why.
A couple weeks ago, I reached a sportswriters' milestone when a Jeffers hockey game I covered was officiated by Nate Sturos, Tyler Kangas and Kirby Frantti, all former Calumet players whose games I'd covered at one point or another.
These sorts of milestones creep up on us - first, there was the varsity girls' basketball game coached by a high school classmate, which happened all the way back in 2007.
Ahead of me are such horrors as the first varsity game coached by a prep athlete I covered and, most frighteningly in the distance, the first varsity game featuring a child of a prep athlete I've covered.
These moments stick out because they're like knots in the string of time - places where my memories have doubled back on themselves.
Then, after considering it more, I realized this isn't a bad thing. After all, knots keep things tied together. Well, except for when I tie my shoes, then they tend to come apart after three blocks and start dragging through the snow.
Officials are a little like knots too - they keep things together and they help games advance smoothly.
This column goes out to all the young folks who are lacing up their high-tops or their skates and want to give something back to the sports that have given them competition, exercise and even a sense of identity.
Here's an idea for you - once you've walked out the doors of your school with a diploma, consider walking back to pick up a whistle.
There are 12,000-plus registered game officials in Michigan alone, but there's always a need for more to replace those who have decided to call it a career because of their age, their bodies or their families.
Furthermore, it seems like the high school sports landscape keeps growing on a regular basis. Last Friday night, we had six girls' basketball games, four boys' basketball games and two hockey games just involving the 11 high schools in our area.
Extrapolate that out to include JV games, middle school, youth and recreational sports and I'm sure a good ref can find a gig.
True, sometimes things can get a little hairy with the comments from the stands. In fact, a 2001 National Association of Sports Officials survey of athletic administrators from throughout the country cited verbal abuse as the number one stumbling block to retention of young officials.
It's a shame, but it's also an opportunity. There are a lot of paths in life you may take in which you will be subject to unreasonable abuse and difficult situations. (See also: Sportswriting) Dealing with it assertively is a valuable life skill. Besides, there are a lot of games that go off without a hitch every night in the U.P.
Obviously, there's even a little money involved. Nobody's going to gain full-time employment from it until one gets to the pros, but I bet it takes the edge off a bill or two.
Several local officials have been selected to work state championship games in just the last few years and a couple have even made the big time, most recently Adam Hamari of Marquette, who is now in the upper reaches of minor league baseball and moonlighted at several Major League games in the 2013 season.
Check out the MHSAA's Officials page at mhsaa.com/officials for some tips on how to get started. Many local athletic administrators can point you in the right direction or consider chatting up (nicely) someone you've seen work one of your games if you run into them in the grocery store to find out how they got started.
I've even thought about taking up officiating some day, but well, between writing and tweeting and taking pictures from the sideline and taking a swig of my Diet Coke between plays, there's just no time for me.
However, there may be time for you. I'll see you on the sidelines.
Brandon?Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.