Longtime Middle Georgia high school football official Rusty Wynn hung up his whistle for the final time following Friday nights GHSA Class AAAAA championship game at the Georgia Dome between Creekside and Tucker. He is retiring from officiating after 40 years at the young age of 62, saying he wanted to step away while he still had his A game.
The Creekside-Tucker matchup was the eighth state title game he has officiated. He has been on the field for more than 80 playoff games and more than 1,000 overall, consisting of midget, B-team and varsity games. In addition, he worked a prison flag football game around the time of the first The Longest Yard movie in the mid-1970s.
Of all those games, he says one of the most memorable came during the 2011 season at Valdostas historic Bazemore-Hyder Stadium between the Wildcats and Colquitt County for the region championship. That contest attracted more than 13,000 fans to the 11,000-seat stadium, and it went to overtime with Valdosta taking a 27-24 win.
He has another fond memory of Valdosta when in that city to call the 2007 state championship game between Lowndes and North Gwinnett, As his crew was leaving their hotel for the game, they spotted a police vehicle with blue lights. Thinking it was an escort for the officials, which is not normal operating procedure, they quickly got behind the police car to depart the stadium, only to learn later that the officer was on a call to an armed robbery.
Wynn, who advanced to the position of referee in the Middle Georgia Football Officials Association in 1978, said he briefly considered moving up to college officiating back in the 1980s but determined the high school game fit his schedule better. He said the time commitment for officiating in college is much greater than for high school.
Prior to joining the MGFOA, where he has served as president on four different occasions, he worked as an umpire at Vine Ingle Little League, starting as a 16-year-old, from 1967-69. From 1970-73, he worked as an official in the Macon Recreation Department for intramural basketball and flag football and from 1973 to 1980 was an umpire with the Middle Georgia adult slow-pitch softball league.
In addition to working high school football games, he called indoor football games in the former AF2 from 2001-06 and was tabbed for the playoffs in both 2005 and 2006.
Officials like Wynn arent in it for the money, but for the love of the game. When he started in 1974, high school officials made $20-$25 for varsity games, $10 for B-team encounters and $5 for midget games. Today, game fees are $96 for varsity tilts and $60 for B-team. He did admit that in the early days when he was a college student the money didnt hurt.
Wynns daytime job is serving as vice president for the Sierra Development Corporation, but his part-time profession has not gone unnoticed. In 2010, he was honored by the Atlanta Touchdown Club with the George Gardner Award, named for longtime SEC official George Gardner. That same year, he was chosen official of the year by the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association, an award he also won in 2001. In October, he was recognized by the Macon Touchdown Club for his 40 years of service and was presented an official SEC flip coin by SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw.
Wynn calls Charles Howell, John Shealey, Cotton Chafin, Willie Cooper, Ben Prickett, Charlie Brannon, Eddie Bryant and Hunton Morgan as mentors for his four decades in the officiating field.
Through the years, he said he has received some verbal abuse from the sidelines and has had to assess an occasional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against coaches, but has never thrown one out of game. During his 40 years in the game, he said he has never feared for his safety.
While he wont be calling high school games next fall, Wynn still wants to be involved in officiating. His plans are to train football officials on the local level.
Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org