Senior Rob Kelly represented Mercer University’s intramural program when he was chosen to officiate the National Flag Football Championship.
NIRSA (National Intramural Recreational Sports Association) organized the championship tournament where Kelly was named an All-American official for flag football.
“Being an All-American official means that Rob was selected as one of the top 16 flag football officials in the country in the 2013-14 season. It’s the highest honor an undergraduate flag football official can receive,” said Mercer’s Assistant Director of Recreational Sports & Wellness, Todd Thomas.
Choosing to officiate a game rather than taking part as a player allows Kelly to gain a sense of control over the game. “You’re always in charge of the game. I enjoy preparing for the games and getting ready to be prepared for various crazy plays and situations that come up,” said Kelly.
The role of a sports official is to dictate the game and manage any chaos or confusion going on within the game.
“We’re ultimately out there serving the players, but at the same time it’s a personal challenge, and it’s rewarding personally to know that you’ve gotten a certain play right or a certain rule right,” said Kelly.
Kelly got his start as an official with his local youth soccer team. “A lot of kids who grow up playing soccer find that there’s opportunities to earn a little money by working for the local youth soccer organizations,” said Kelly.
Kelly began officiating at Mercer during his freshman year. “At Mercer, for intramurals, I have officiated all five of our major sports, which are soccer, flag football, volleyball, basketball and softball,” said Kelly.
Kelly experienced difficulty in gaining the respect that is needed to be a successful official due to his young age and small stature as a freshman.
“You come in, especially when you’re a freshman, and all the players are either your age or older, which is the first time you’ve had to deal with that. You’ve almost exclusively worked with younger players so they’ve been relatively easy to control,” said Kelly.
Kelly now works with training other young officials for Mercer’s intramurals. He shared that he understands the challenges in the beginning and enjoys helping new officials work through them.
“When you start off, it’s hard,” said Kelly. “You’re not familiar with the rules, you’re not familiar with the players, and players in general are just difficult to work with.”
“I think there’s two ways to go from that initial start- ing point of ‘Man, this is hard,’” said Kelly. “You can either say ‘Well, I want to figure out why I’m getting things wrong, why I’m confused, why this is difficult for me’ or you can just say ‘This is really hard, I’ll just get through it and be done.’”
Achievements, such as being named an All-American official, are some of the goals and benefits in the field of officiating, but are not the only way success can be measured.
“That’s nice, but obviously those [achievements] are rare. To maintain a successful intramural pro- gram, you have to have a good solid crop of people that know how to handle themselves professionally.”
When someone such as Kelly goes to National tournaments, he represents Mercer among bigger name schools, many of which have never heard of Mercer University.
“It’s a big deal for Mercer, because it puts our pro- gram on a national stage. If you look at the schools that the All-American officials came from, they were overwhelmingly from large public institutions,” said Thomas. “For a school like Mercer, this helps show that our officiating programs are just as strong.”
Kelly is happy with his achievements in flag football officiating, but he would like to see himself develop in other areas such as in officiating basketball on the national level.
“It’s great to have achieved success in flag football. That doesn’t really matter when trying to go forward in basketball,” said Kelly. “The next goal for me is to just get to the National tournament [for basketball]. Who knows? You can’t say it won’t happen.”
Kelly believes himself to have been successful in his officiating work at Mercer and hopes to continue his career into graduate school and possibly remain in the field of intramurals after he completes college.
“A lot of schools, including Mercer, will hire somebody who has achieved pretty good success as an undergraduate. [The school] will pay for their schooling, give them some type of stipend, and you’ll work almost as a young professional within an intramural program,” said Kelly.
After finishing his senior year, Kelly hopes to go on and continue his career in intramurals. “I’d like to become a graduate assistant in the field of intramural sports,” said Kelly.