Enforcer of fair play

John Wright For ten years, John held the crucial, load-bearing position of an SEC referee. This necessary position was laced with the immense pressure as the eyes of many watched his every move. He dodged the occasional 250-pound linebacker or a toe-drag snag in the end zone, amidst staying vigilant. While constantly under a magnifying glass, John’s calls not only determined the outcome of a game, but also the spirit of thousands of fans. His standard of ethics was unwavering regardless of disgruntled “boos.” 

Surprisingly, John did not start out with lofty dreams of being an SEC football official. In fact, his foray into the world of refereeing came at the challenge of his friend, Sam McKenzie. At the time, John was coaching a team of middle-schoolers. “Sam started officiating the year before I did, and he was calling one of our games,” explains John. “I got mad on a call, and I was giving him grief. He said, ’You know what, John? If you think you can do it better, you bring your behind out there.’”

John did just that, and the next year he was out to prove his mettle as an official. “Once I got out there and got into it, I realized that I didn’t know anything,” John says. “I thought I knew. Myself, as a coach, I didn’t know the rules like I thought I did.” From there, it was a steady climb through the ranks.

Starting at the Pee Wee level, John eventually made it to high school games, college junior varsity, then to varsity where he officiated two state championships. He even refereed some arena football games prior to his strenuous 10-year role in the SEC. It was no easy task. Even in the offseason, officials spend countless hours studying the rules of the game and attending seminars to hone their craft. Much like collegiate football teams, they spend hours reviewing game film to ensure that they are making calls to the best of their ability. “I think most fans think they can do the job. But once you get into it and realize how much is involved and what goes into the preparation, your perspective changes,” says John. “You have to be thick-skinned, and you have to take a lot of criticism.”

Challenges have faced John off the field as well. In July of 2016, he and his wife Kimberly lost their daughter, Jazmine Wright. John credits God with helping them work through the pain of losing a child. Now retired from his role, he chooses to focus on his family and faith, but he still looks back fondly at his time on the field. “You get the best seat in the house,” John says. “And I was blessed to be able to do it for ten years of my life.”

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