Published: 08:36 PM, Thu Apr 26, 2012
Vaughan: Official booking agent makes the right calls
It was 1998 when surgery on his knees ended Neil Buie's days as an on-the-field official in football and baseball.
But Buie, who had reached the pinnacle of the officiating profession by calling state championships and the Shrine Bowl, wasn't ready to step down.
So he didn't. He stepped sideways into the world of booking agent. He changed from being the guy who calls balls and strikes, to the one who dispatches others to officiate games across the Cape Fear region.
He's in his 15th year of handling the task of booking officials for baseball and softball, a job he knows a lot of fans don't completely understand.
"I have 54 schools and 153 active officials,'' Buie said. "It's a process of merging the need with the officials with the right capability at the right level of the game to do the proper job that's most interesting.''
It's a job with challenges, and one that's forced Buie to set some firm rules. One of the firmest is when fans are upset about the job an official did calling one of their games, he won't take the call.
"If I get a phone call from a fan or parent, I direct them back to the home school and local administration,'' Buie said. "If at that time the administration feels a conversation is necessary, I usually have it with the athletic director.''
If there is one thing Buie could share with fans, it's that officials aren't just picked at random and assigned to call games.
"It's not just somebody we flagged down on Fort Bragg Road and said, 'Come in and be an umpire,' '' Buie said. "These people undergo a lot of training, work scrimmages at no fee to them before they step on the field to get paid for working a game.''
Buie said the people who devote their lives to officiating are a special breed. "Being an official is a lot like joining the service,'' he said. "Once it's in your blood, it's hard to get it out.''
Buie is equally committed to what he does, because the challenge of keeping the baseball and softball schedule straight can be daunting. "The first day it rains, the whole season is thrown into turmoil,'' he said. "The most games I've had scheduled in one day is 65. If you get 65 games rained out, all have to be rescheduled. It becomes a crossword puzzle of finding a time and place they can make it up.''
Buie has done a good job of working that crossword puzzle over the years. That's one of the reasons that next week in Chapel Hill, at the annual meeting of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, he'll receive the Golden Whistle Award in honor of his efforts.
"In the officiating world, this is the coup de grace,'' Buie said. "You've reached the highest level there can be. I'm very thankful and humbled to be receiving the award.''
For Buie's sake, let's just hope it doesn't rain that day.
Scholastic sports editor Earl Vaughan Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3519.