Jim Roach hung ‘em up after 20 years as a high school football official, but not before witnessing a favorite moment in one of his final games.
It wasn’t a championship game, or even a close game. The final score was 50-8.
“But it was one of those games you could just sense the spirit of sports,” Roach said. “It was what sports are supposed to be about.”
Roach, 63, was the crew chief for West Washington’s home game against Indianapolis Washington last month. The Continentals, battling a roster short on numbers all season, brought just 12 players to the game. One Washington player was injured in the first quarter and another in the second quarter.
Roach approached the Washington coaching staff and asked if they wanted to continue to play with 10 players. When they confirmed they would play, West Washington coach Phillip Bowsman responded by taking out one of his players and going 10-on-10 the rest of the game.
“The Washington team turned to the West Washington sideline and applauded,” Roach said. “I’ve never had anything strike me that deeply as an official. It was just a beautiful game all the way around. They’d hit each other hard and help each other up. It was the most sportsmanlike game I’ve ever had as an official.”
The scene moved Roach so much that he submitted an exemplary sportsmanship award nomination to the Indiana High School Athletic Association. Roach, a Bloomfield resident and pastor at Arlington United Methodist Church in Bloomington, wrote in his report that it was “the best collective expression of sportsmanship I have witnessed in my career as an official.”
West Washington won as part of an 11-1 season. Washington was on the other end of the spectrum, finishing 1-9. But Roach’s note to the IHSAA marked the third time Washington’s program was lauded for its sportsmanship by officials during the season.
Washington coach Andy Mappes said he was overwhelmed that three officials would take the time to recognize his team. At the highest point, the Continentals had only 15 or 16 players available on game nights.
“Maybe next year we work more on learning how to win and getting more kids out,” said Mappes, a 1983 Roncalli graduate. “But this year we really emphasized how our body language speaks volumes and how to compete respectfully. In that aspect, I feel like we had a successful season. We got a lot of respect from opposing teams that have 40-something kids to our 15 or so.”
Bowsman, the West Washington coach, said his team also got something out of its game against Washington other than another victory.
“I think they learned about how the game is about competition but also to have compassion and respect,” Bowsman said. “Those guys (Washington) didn’t quit. I could tell our guys respected that. They still wanted to make the tackle, but then they’d help them back up. They were looking out for each other.”
Washington will graduate several key seniors next year, including standouts Curtis Ferguson and Jalen Weathers. Mappes, whose son Andrew rushed for over 1,000 yards as a senior this year at Southport, will go into this third season next year with at least a baseline of what it takes to build a program. Some of the rules he put in place – wearing a shirt and tie to school on game day, no cussing on the field, no late hits – will carry over to next season.
The Continentals left a lasting impression on Roach.
“Our crew had a game at Lucas Oil Stadium earlier this year,” Roach said. “I thought that was the pinnacle of my last year as an official. But the game at West Washington topped anything that I’d experienced before.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.