Tuesday, April 7, 2020

GNAC Officiating Q&A: Bob Latham

GNAC official Bob Latham has a vast resume that includes working U.S. Olympic Trials in '08, '12 and '16.

We are using this blog during the 2019-20 academic year to bring you profiles on the unsung heroes of GNAC athletic competition -- the referees, rules officials and officiating supervisors without whom the games could not occur. These Q&A's are intended to heighten awareness for this critical aspect of amateur sports while celebrating the efforts of those individuals who are giving back to the game through the avocation of officiating.

This initiative is part of a comprehensive strategy by the NCAA DII Conference Commissioners Association to 1) bring attention to the crisis-level shortage of officials affecting amateur sports and 2) promote the benefits and rewards of officiating by implementing a national recruitment effort within the division.

For more information on how to become an official, we encourage you to visit the following links or reach out to your local officiating organization:

Now, on to our Q&A with GNAC with track and field official Bob Latham.

Name: Bob Latham
Hometown: Bend, Ore. (formerly of Long Beach, Calif.)
Years as an official: 47

What levels have you worked as a cross country or track official?

What have been some of the highlights of your officiating career
2008, 2012, and 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. I was also the referee for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles. In addition, I have served as the head umpire at the University of Oregon (Hayward Field).

What has been your involvement with U.S. Track and Field?
I was the USATF Men's LDR National Championship Chairman for 14 years. I also am a part of the executive committee for the USATF Cross Country Council. I have been a coach for over 50 years – earning national coach-of-the-year in 1992, 1995, and 2000.

Describe your involvement while serving on the officiating crew for meets at the University of Oregon.
I started as a finish line official, but I served as the head umpire for 15 years.

What levels have you worked as a cross country or track official?
I have worked hundreds of high school meets in addition to USATF and NCAA national championships and U.S. Olympic Trials. I have put on numerous national cross country championships for USATF, NCAA and NAIA.

Describe your competitive background in the sport of track and field.
I was a very average athlete in cross country and track and field, but I became a much better contributor to the sport as a coach and an administrator.

What was it that attracted you to the officiating world?
In 1972, I had a mentor (vice-principal) who encouraged me to give back to the sport as an official. I was head cross country and track coach at the time. So in 1972, I became a certified official.

What were the initial steps you took to pursue a career as an official?
Bill O'Rourke was a vice-principal at Palos Verdes High School in California. He asked me to become certified, and I was an officer in the track starter's association and the official's organizations.

What do you remember about your first “real” assignment as an official?
I was working a few high school meets, and they needed a starter for the championship track and field meet. It is a rewarding feeling to help young athletes to ensure fair competition and for me to "pay it forward" for the next generation of officials.

What was it that prompted you to move into the intercollegiate ranks?
When I moved to Oregon in 1980, I was still very busy coaching. However, with the University of Oregon and its illustrious program, I was inspired to move up to the collegiate level of officiating.

What is your specialty event in track and field, and why did you focus on that particular aspect of officiating?
Although I am certified in running and field events, I liked to work as an umpire on the track events. Umpires actually deal with the rules of track events to ensure fair competition for all of the participating athletes.

As an official in any sport needs to become a rules "expert,” what approach did you take to learning the rule book inside and out?
You can't just be a student and read the rule book. The most practical experience is actually officiating at the meets. I think I learn something new at every meet.

Can you outline a typical officiating year in terms of the number (and classification) of events you typically have on your calendar and the travel involved?
I probably work 15-20 meets per year from local high school meets (and state championships) to collegiate and national level championships -- usually as an umpire or as a referee. I know I drive well over a thousand miles per year as well as fly to some national championship events.

What have you found to be the biggest challenges as an official
Sometimes it's dealing with parents of athletes who disagree with a call that I make; it could also be the fatigue of 12-hour days on the track. I always hope that my judgments are fair for all of the athletes involved in their events.

Describe an aspect of college officiating that the average person or fan doesn’t realize?
Much of the pre-meet preparation is taken for granted. When I walk out to the track or a field event, I don't want to be surprised because of my lack of preparedness.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in track and field officiating? What should be the first steps?
First, become a certified official. This is a sign that you are taking the responsibility seriously. Next, work as many meets as you can at all levels -- high school, collegiate, national. You will gain new experiences at each level, and that will make you a more competent official. Have fun officiating; you are contributing to a great sport.