Q&A: John Carricato talks high school sports through an official’s perspective

John Carricato

John Carricato. (Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

John Carricato isn’t in it for the money. He’s not in for the recognition. He’s in it for the kids.

The longtime Colorado Springs resident is active during every athletics season in Colorado. He coaches boys golf in the fall and girls golf in the spring, both at Cheyenne Mountain.

In the fall, he spends his weekends officiating football games as a white-hat. In the winter, he still wears his referee stripes only on the hardwood floor.

He’s been called names. He’s been told he’s no good. But he continues to persist as an official because like anything he does in regard to high school athletics, his focus is on providing a positive experience for the competitors.

Given the downward trend in the number of high school officials, he seemed like the perfect person to provide some perspective on how high athletics are view from the guys in the stripped shirts.

For more information on how to become a high school official in Colorado, visit highschoolofficials.com.

Question: Why do you think we’re hearing so much about the number of officials trending down?

Carricato: I think from the awareness part, in order to retain officials it’s multifaceted with one of them being how fans treat them. So that’s why you’re hearing so much about it.

I don’t necessarily think there’s a trend down, it’s probably flat. The issue becomes that there are more and more schools. That’s the primary thing.

The officials associations need to keep up with the growth of the number of high schools.

Q: What makes a good official?

Carricato: I think there’s a couple of things that come to mind real quick and one of them being you have to be athlete-focused. I think the best officials are those who coach. And I’m not saying that because I coach.

But I have peers in the officiating world that are also coaches and they’re pretty good. So that piece about being athlete-focused is pretty important.

And the second part, which is just as important, is how well you communicate.

You’ve got to figure out as an official how to be an effective communicator not only with the coaches – which is really just to stay quiet and let them talk – but how to communicate with kids.

I’ve learned that when you catch the athletes doing things right, you can get them on your side pretty easily.

Q: You mentioned the coaches. Is it essential to stay quiet but is there a bond or almost relationship that you have to have with those guys?

Carricato: Yeah and that bond and relationship comes probably with confidence. The more they see you and the more they see you on the road and to know that they’re going to get a fair shake on the road, that probably helps.

I only have a couple of things to say to coaches and they’re pretty simple. It’s that I try to get them to talk. I’ll ask them what they saw on that play and get them to say what they saw and I’ll tell them that I’ll take a look at it next time.

So it’s more about listening to them and not responding in statements is really important. When they have a question and it’s a legitimate question, it’s probably repeated more than once and I’ll try to answer it.

But it’s really about trying to start that conversation when you get that feel that coaches and the coaching bench is getting a little agitated with what’s going on.

If you can get there and ask what they’re seeing and get them to talk about what’s frustrating for them, I think that really helps.

Q: What the most common frustration you see from coaches towards officials?

Carricato: Consistency on both ends of the court. I’m talking basketball here, but that’s the most common thing.

And that’s what we talk about as officials too. We want to have like calls and like plays on both ends. Does it happen all the time? No. But I think the reason we say that is because that’s what we hear from coaches. They just want consistency.

Q: You work football too. Would you almost call that a safer environment being much more distanced from the fans?

Carricato: Yeah I think it is. It’s a different environment because you’re pretty far aways from there.

And coaches can talk to you, but then the next play happens. They have to get ready for the next play. They’ll talk to you and there may be some frustrations on the sidelines but I moved from the sidelines to the referee position several years ago and every time I go back on the sidelines, that’s what I enjoy most about football is being on that sideline and listening to the chaos that happens there.

Just as important and what fascinates me the most about officiating is when I’m able to listen to coaches talk to their kids. I learn so much from just listening how they communicate that I can actually take that as a coach and use those communication techniques.

Q: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard from a coach?

Carricato: The one that sticks out right away is Manitou Springs boys basketball. They were struggling a little bit in the backcourt and the ball was thrown from the backcourt in the air, and it was caught by Coach (Ken) Vecchio. He just looked at me, bounced the ball once and says, “Ball always finds the shooter.”

That’s the thing that sticks out to me the most. When I have to answer the question off the top of my head, that’s what really sticks out. Any time a ball goes out of bounds and a coach catches it, I always think of that statement.

Q: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard from a fan, parent or student?

Carricato: Early on when I still had hair, I mean I was bald, but trying to fight being bald, it was probably the hair jokes that were the worst from the fans.

After 20 years of being bald, pick something else because I’ve pretty much heard everything.

The worst thing that happened to me was when a fan came and actually threw punches at me and my teammate in a corner of a gym. It started there but ended up in the middle of the court and what people saw were two officials ganging up on this spectator and thought that we were at fault.

That was actually the worst thing that happened to me, but I don’t know if I want to rekindle too much of that.

Now it’s pretty funny.

Q: Sometimes you see officials with a bit of a quick trigger to boot a fan out of venue. What would it take to get you to that point?

Carricato: I have to be honest, I became a decent official when I was able to take all that commotion and distractions from spectators and ignore it.

That’s when I elevated my ability as an official.

The advice that I would give is to ignore the distractions, ignore that piece of it. The benefit is that you will become a better official when you can do that.

It took me 20 years to figure that out, but there are a lot officials that have figured that out early. You can see that their development is on a really good trajectory.

Q: What advice would you give a kid looking to become a high school official?

Carricato: It’s the best part-time job you can get. Especially if you’re in college. You set your own schedule.

Contrary to what you hear, it’s still pretty good money. But the key is you set your own schedule when you officiate.

You’re also part of a sport that you have a passion to and you’re moving that passion from playing that sport to officiating. That’s the biggest thing.

As far as officiating, find a mentor. Find a person that you like how they work, like their style and I don’t know any veteran official that wouldn’t help a young official out.