Tony Payne needed a one-hour credit. What he got was a 40-year career.
When Payne decided to take an officiating class at Ohio University Southern — then being housed at Ironton High School — that was taught by Jim “Bear” Mains, all he was looking for was one-hour class credit.
“Half the quarter was football and half the quarter was basketball,” Payne said. “At the end of the course you took a test and you would get your license.”
That simple course didn’t just give Payne an officiating license, it started him on a part-time career.
Payne has been officiating high school football for the past 40 years. He was recently recognized for his accomplishment with a certificate from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“That’s quite an accomplishment,” said official Chuck Delawder who has worked 20 of his 22 seasons in a crew with Payne. “He’s a mainstay.”
Having been around sports either as a player or coach, Payne thought officiating would make a nice hobby. As soon as he got his license, he attended his first chapter meeting and Don Brubaker and his son John asked him to join their crew.
“They had a man in their crew who was transferred and they needed somebody for a wing. Don asked me if I was ready to go and I said yes,” Payne recalled.
“They worked half their games in Kentucky and in Kentucky they have an assigner. They gave us five games and we filled in with five games (in Ohio).”
The crew worked the two-state schedule for three years but then Kentucky changed assigners and the trips began to get longer and longer.
“We were leaving at four o’clock in the afternoon and getting home at one or two. After a couple of years, we said guys are hunting for crews in Ohio. Let’s just get games in Ohio and drop Kentucky and we all agreed.,” said Payne.
“I did all the (public relations) work and we were normally always booked.”
Payne has worked hundreds of games during his career including approximately 40 playoff contests. He officiated state championship games in 2002 and 2000 when Canton Central Catholic beat Van Wert in double overtime.
There have been other memorable games and moments. Payne said a few stick out.
“One night we were working a game at Coal Grove when the press box was still on the other side of the field. There was some trouble communicating with the press box and John Brubaker decided to go up to the press box,” said Payne.
“We told him not to go, but he went anyway. When he came down out of the press box he had hot chocolate all over him where two women threw it on him. That’s the last time he did that.”
The most memorable game was Waverly at Northwest when the Mohawks’ long-time team manager Jake Porter entered the game for the final play and scored a touchdown.
Porter had mental and physical disabilities and could not have any contact. But as a senior and his final game, the two head coaches worked out a deal where Porter would get to carry the ball one time.
“We got there and the Northwest coach told us they’d like to run one play and (Porter) was going to take a knee. We can’t have him hit. The Waverly coach knew about it and said we’d work something out,” said Payne.
“With a minute left, we began setting everything up. The coaches came out and met at the 50-yard line. The Waverly coach said he wanted (Porter) to score. The Northwest coach wasn’t sure (Porter) could run that far, but the Waverly coach said he wanted him to score.”
The officials then talked with every player to make sure they were on the same page. When the play began, Porter got the handoff and the players stepped back and allowed him to run 49 yards for a touchdown.
“We walked off the field and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. All the people kept saying how much they appreciated what we did,” said Payne.
Not only has Payne been an official, but he’s been on the other side as well. For 12 years he coached youth sports and girls’ high school softball. He said his career as an official helped him understand what umpires had to deal with during games.
“When I started coaching, I told the players to leave (the umpires) alone and let them call the game. They’re not going to beat us. They’re here and they have a job to do. The scoreboard is what we’re after,” said Payne.
Besides his game duties, Payne has been the secretary for the Ironton Chapter of High School Football Officials and this year he added the duties of rules interpreter.
Payne said he doesn’t mind the extra work. In fact, he said he is still as enthusiastic as ever and isn’t sure when he plans to retire.
“I’ve seen officials who should’ve quit and I’ve seen officials who lost the fun of it. As long as I’m healthy and I can work a position and it’s fun, I’ll keep going,” said Payne.
“I made it to 40 (years) and I say, ‘45 isn’t that far off.’ So, I’ll just keep working and going one year at a time. I enjoy it and I feel I’m performing a good thing and I’m proud of it. I wait for it all year. I get excited about it just like the kids.”