Teaching can take many different avenues in life. There are your conventional classroom teachers, music teachers, coaches, dance, cheer, and the list goes on. There is another way that children are taught that takes on an entirely different perspective – refereeing or umpiring. Two long-time friends and colleagues returned their stripes following their retirement from the school system as administrators. John Ellerbee and Randy Ward spent many years together as teachers, coaches, and later administrators before they retired relatively close together.
Ward had refereed since 1976 and did so for about 20 years until his son started playing sports and he took a break from it. Ward says, “When he started playing varsity basketball, I got out of the officiating end of it and then I got into administration and didn’t have time to do it. Once I retired, John and I talked about it and we talked about getting into volleyball.” Ward said he had refereed basketball and he opted to return to the court to referee basketball. He says he has refereed basketball for about 20 years and football about the same amount of time and volleyball for two years now.
Ward started his teaching career in 1980, and coached during that time in Cottondale and Graceville, coaching primarily middle school sports. Ward said he coached a little football, basketball, both junior varsity girls and boys, coached softball, baseball and coached volleyball one year.
Ward says about ‘teaching’ when he is on the court or the field as a referee is something that he’s always done, “You know I had a situation last night in Graceville, there was a little confusion on substitution so rather than making it a foul, I called the girls together and told them let’s get it right and we have to make legal substitutions and that took care of it. You know when the situation allows it, I try to handle it that way. I try to do what we call preventative officiating.”
John Ellerbee “Big John” is known throughout the sporting world in Jackson County but more so for the championships he won as coach in Malone than for his present status in the refereeing arena. Ellerbee has been in the classroom, in the coach’s box and an administrator. Today he is retired and has returned to the court as a referee. He like, Randy Ward, believes officials have a special place, “You know the good officials are the ones who talk to the players a little bit and say, ‘Hey no handshaking, we are going to call it a night. You know kind of let the players know how you are going to call the game. You know in a pregame you tell them in volleyball, if it hits the ceiling, it’s dead and if you hear a whistle it’s going to be dead. I think this is where you have to be consistent as you go. A lot of the kids today don’t know the rules of the game, they just play it. They don’t know that there are actual rules that go with the game. I think that’s where we as umpires believe that if the coaches don’t think about the officials after the game, then they did a great job. And the good officials would allow you to talk to them and that’s what I’ve always tried to take to the game. And they respect that.”
Randy is married to Evelyn Ward and has two children, Andy Ward and Kendyl Covington.
John is married to Haley Ellerbee and has two sons, Tyler and Ethan Ellerbee.