The final whistle

Published 6:33 pm Sunday, July 6, 2014

By Caslee Sims

News Intern

AHOSKIE – In sports, there are those who coach the game, play the game, and officiate the game. Charles Freeman chose the latter, and for 43 years he laid down the law on the football field.

Freeman got his start as a high school teacher in Virginia and North Carolina. Although he remained an instructor for many years, his heart had always been in football. He rose up from high school water boy to revered North Carolina referee, starting in 1971. He served this state well.

Charles Freeman of Ahoskie displays a framed memento of the 1998 State Football Championship game, one that he officiated, along with the numerous caps he wore during his 43 years as a high school football official. Staff Photo by Caslee Sims

Charles Freeman of Ahoskie displays a framed memento of the 1998 State Football Championship game, one that he officiated, along with the numerous caps he wore during his 43 years as a high school football official. Staff Photo by Caslee Sims

After two North Carolina 4A State Championships, numerous North Carolina Eastern State Championship games, and serving as the Interim Booking Agent for the Coastal Plains Officials Association, Freeman has involuntarily hung up his whistle.

A typical Friday night of officiating varsity high school football for Freeman usually began at about 4 p.m and could last past midnight in some cases, as he noted.

He said from about 4 to 4:30 p.m, “you are checking your bags, equipment, carpooling the other officials, then driving to your destination and filling out your game card that we give to the head coaches and media.”

He continued by saying that “by 6 o’clock we would have gotten to the game and afterwards we got dressed and made sure that our shoes were polished, then from about 6:30 to 7 is pregame. In that time, we are going over rules, we are storing tendencies of the teams in the back of our heads and then each official notes their assignment for the night.”

At 7, Freeman said, “you go out to the goalpost area, survey the field with the officials and then take the field.” After that the 120 yards of green grass becomes the official’s field.

The home team’s head coach is then approached and asked about rules he needs clarified, and asked if it is a special night such as homecoming or senior night; two of the most important nights in high school football. At 7:25, captains come out, the coin toss is made and afterwards the band starts playing the national anthem. Freeman says at this point in the evening it’s game time and “if you don’t get goose bumps, then you are not ready for the game.”

The various types of officials include a linesman, who is in charge of verifying what down it is on the field, and a field judge, whose job is to oversee passing situations and pass related penalties such as pass interference. There is also a back judge, who oversees “punts and long passes” as Freeman said; an umpire who looks at the line of scrimmage, and the referee who oversees everything on happening on the field.

Freeman was asked about his most exciting and prestigious games, and, of course, the two state championships came to mind. He was an official in the 1992 Class 4A North Durham vs. Charlotte-Independence championship game, and the 1998 Garner vs. Richland County championship contest. He also noted a down-to-the-wire Eastern State Championship game with Wallace Rose Hill facing Western Guilford. Freeman said that tempers flared so much that the game had to be ended with about 90 seconds remaining.

He was also lucky to have never suffered any injuries, but he doesn’t shy away from noting that he was involved in a few dangerous collisions.

Some refs are looked at as unfair, or biased, but Freeman said that in officiating you must be consistent.

“If you’re going to call holding on the 50 yard line, call it on the 10 yard line,” he said.

His motto is that if the coaches don’t remember your name after the game, you did a good job. It means that you were being consistent and fair throughout the course of the game.

So what made Freeman call it quits? He didn’t want to, but his recent involvement with local politics (an elected position as an Ahoskie Town Councilman) caused him to give up something he had immersed himself within for so long.

He offered thanks to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association; they enabled him to enjoy a very fruitful career on the football field. Freeman said he has done just about everything in the high school football world, and he would like to see more young people get involved with officiating.

He officially retired on June 2.

Married to Gloria Britt Freeman, he is also the father of two sons, David and Mark.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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