Lyle Mayberry has officiated over 400 varsity football games.
But it’s his first he remembers the most.
The year was 1973 and the game was Hamburg vs. Stanton on a foggy night in Hamburg. So foggy was it that Mayberry, who was a line judge on long-time Glenwood referee Red Holmes’ crew that night, had to relay calls across the field to the press box so the public address announcer could let the crowd know.
“Hamburg won the game,” Mayberry recalled. “We had a line judge who signaled touchdown when a kid crossed the five yard line. He couldn’t even see the field. It was just terrible fog.”
Mayberry is hanging up his white hat – the symbol of the head official of a football game – at the end of the football season after 40 years of officiating everything from pee wee to varsity football. The timing, he said, felt right.
“I’ve got grandkids who are going to be in junior high pretty soon and I just thought you have to stop sometime so this was just as good a time as any,” Mayberry said.
Mayberry refereed his first football game just a few years removed from high school. A 1967 Glenwood graduate and a former quarterback for the Rams, Mayberry got into officiating as sort of a whim.
“I always liked the game of football in high school,” Mayberry said. “It was always one of my favorite games and I was always interested in it. And the athletic director here (at Glenwood) at the time (Rollin Dyer) said he needed some help with some junior varsity games so I went down and helped out.”
Mayberry started as a sub on Holmes crew before latching on as a permanent addition a few years later. The rest, they say, is history.
“I think I’m the last guy who officiated with Red Holmes who is still officiating.”
Being able to officiate has kept Mayberry close to his favorite sport throughout the years.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Mayberry said. “I enjoy being around the kids the most. The youth around here are great kids. It’s fun to be around the kids. They deserve to have their games officiated the best they can be and I try and do that.”
Mayberry’s current crew consists of Greg Esterling (umpire), Brick Madison (linesman), Jeff Voss (line judge) and Doug Meggison (back judge). They do a couple of games a week sprinkled between freshman, junior varsity, high school and some youth league games. Mayberry’s held every position on the crew at one time or another. He took over the white hat duties when Russ Finken scaled back his officiating schedule a few years ago.
Twice Mayberry and his crew have been tabbed to referee state playoff games in the UNI Dome. In 2007, Mayberry was the white hat in a state runner up game between Ar-Ve-Wa vs. Armstrong-Ringsted that went to double-overtime.
“It was a heck of a ball game and you’re in the dome and kind of pumped up anyway. That’s one I’ll probably never forget,” Mayberry said of the game won by Armstrong-Ringsted 45-42.
The biggest difference for Mayberry officiating in a dome as opposed to outside in the sometimes frigid Iowa fall?
The weather. Well, that and the “electric” atmosphere.
“It’s 70 degrees in the dome in November so that was nice,” he said. “But working the dome means you’re working the best of the best in that class. And you have to be on your toes and do the best job you can. You have a lot of people watching you and you’re on television. Those kids are playing for a championship.”
The game of football is fluid even for a referee whose very job it is to make order of the gridiron chaos. Mayberry’s seen coaches and players come and go. Athletes
grow stronger and quicker. Rules go away and come back. The one constant he’s has seen in 40 years in stripes is that football will always be about, essentially, the fundamentals.
“Everybody has X’s and O’s. And I’ve seen a lot of different offensive and defensive formations. I don’t care about what offense or defense a team runs. It all comes down to blocking and tackling,” Mayberry said. “The team who blocks and tackles the best is generally the team that is going to win.”
Refereeing more than 400 games says a lot about Mayberry’s longevity and his dedication to getting the call right. His advice to young officials is simple: work as many games as you can.
“I don’t care if its little league, seventh grade, eighth grade or varsity or whatever. Work as many games as you can,” he said. “The more games you work the more comfortable you’ll get. The best way for me not to mistake is to actually have made the mistake. Hopefully you don’t do it at the varsity level and cost someone a game. It’s like any other job. The more experience you get the better job you’re going to do.”
All of those games as an official has also offered many a run in with players (he guesses he’s ejected five athletes in 40 years) and coaches, both colorful and a bit-put off by one of his calls.
Legendary Harlan Coach Curt Bladt once berated Mayberry on the sideline for throwing seven first half flags on his team.
“He came to me and said ‘Mayberry, you’ve called seven flags on us this half.’ And then he walked away and turned back and said, ‘And five of them have been right.’ Coaches try and work you. There’s always going to be coaches who see things differently than you.”
Mayberry helped start the Lil’ Rams football program in the 1970s coaching his own children. He’s currently coaching his grandchildren.
“Being a good coach means you have to have a good working knowledge of the game and it mechanics and its rules,” Mayberry said. “You don’t have to be an official to do that. But it helps.”