Sicairos thankful to find a way to stay in the game
Christian Sicairos initially intended for his time as an official to be a short-term deal.
The motivation for some extra cash clearly present, not unlike many college students, Sicairos figured why not don the zebra stripes for a little while to offset his school schedule.
“I honestly thought it was only going to last for one year and it would be a great part-time job and a way to supplement some income,” he recalled.
That was in 2015.
Six years later, the ever-upbeat Sicairos is still in the game and about to begin his seventh year as an official when the high school football season kicks off in a few short weeks.
Sicairos, who is a bilingual teacher at Phoenix Elementary School, has fully embraced being an official, be it in football or basketball, and has found the experience to be quite a rewarding aspect in his life.
“Being able to tap back into what I’ve done in the past with playing and just being able to be on the field — to me, that’s what keeps bringing me back,” Sicairos said. “Being able to officiate, it’s so cool just being a part of the game. And how many games do you get paid to exercise? Being paid to be able to exercise, and I know that’s not what it’s all about with officiating, but pro athletes get paid to exercise and it’s a great incentive.
“Getting your exercise for the day, I feel like it’s a free gym membership because you’re out there running around.”
As local officials organizations struggle with low numbers and an aging core group of referees, Sicairos falls right in the middle of the demographic in which those same assigners hope to see more of — a young, energetic male or female in their 20s or 30s who can be part of the next generation in black and white stripes.
“Without officials, there’s no game,” Sicairos said, “and it’s really an opportunity to really make a difference in the community and the development of the kids and athletes. Being part of that is so cool, especially when people that have a passion for sports and the sports they’ve played in the past. Out of sitting around watching TV or sitting in the stands — there’s nothing wrong with that — but there’s nothing like being part of the game and also the incentive of being paid to do so.”
A 2013 graduate of South Medford High and former football player for the Panthers, Sicairos first started talking about officiating with his sixth grade teacher, Mark Happeny. From there, Sicairos began officiating games as a 19-year-old newbie, around the same time he was beginning classes at Southern Oregon University after spending his first two years of college at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.
These days, he officiates local football and basketball games, anywhere from the youth ranks up to some of the biggest games in the Rogue Valley. Recently, he’s added officiating at the college level to his resume, taking on basketball games played in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.
As Sicairos sees it, he’s definitely a long way from being at the top of his field among the many experienced and helpful officials he’s had the pleasure to work with since starting here in the Rogue Valley.
If anything, Sicairos said he’s more emblematic of Brian Scalabrine than LeBron James in comparative NBA terms, but he’s working hard to hone his craft and has lofty aspirations of becoming one of those top officials before his time is through.
“I basically got into officiating simply through my love for sports,” Sicairos said. “At first, I was a little bit nervous because I think the stereotype with officiating is that you’re always getting yelled at, you can never please everybody and I wasn’t too sure about myself when I went out for officiating if I would be able to handle all that.”
Those worries are now a thing of the past.
He quickly learned that there were solutions for those initial fears, and the more games he got under his belt, the more those fears went away. And with fewer fears came more confidence and development as an official.
Sicarios credits a lot of the veteran officials for helping him learn his craft and quiet the outside noise from spectators and coaches that unfortunately also tends to come with the job.
“I would say in the Rogue Valley, I’ve been really blessed with the mentorship,” Sicairos said. “Without that, it would make the job a lot more difficult. We really have a strong training for newer officials, so if there are newer officials interested in it, I was really thankful that the training we offer is really top notch.”
As a former football player at South, it may not be much of a surprise that Sicairos said “the best part of officiating is when you’re underneath those Friday Night Lights.”
“I see friends I played football with in the stands or coaching, but there’s nothing like having the best seat in the house and being on the field, being part of the game, being able to facilitate the game and keep it as safe for everybody,” Sicairos added. “I’ve had the chance to be an official at some great stadiums like Spiegelberg (Stadium) and over at (Mel Ingram Field) in Grants Pass. There’s nothing like it. It’s really the best seat in the house.”
As a teacher, Sicairos also has adopted a unique way at looking at officiating.
“I’ll share with other officials that I kind of look at the game as if it’s your own classroom,” he said. “Obviously, as a teacher and a referee, it’s about what you want to allow in the classroom, what you want to allow on the field, what you want to allow on the court, and what you don’t want to allow.”
“I’ll ask,” Sicairos continued, “‘How do you want the players to communicate to each other? How do you want your students to communicate to each other? Is it in a positive or a negative way?’”
The learning experience hasn’t just been on the field, either.
As much as he feels like he’s gotten better as an official, Sicairos also credits officiating with helping him develop away from the field.
He was a teenager when he started.
Now, he’s married with five years of teaching experience under his belt.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a man, as a person,” Sicairos said. “I’ve learned how I want to act as a person and the character I want to model myself, as well as learning how I do not want to act. To me, that’s what’s been the best part of just developing my own character and learning about my own self.”
Another gratifying aspect during his tenure as an official has been watching the young kids in this area grow up and hit the high school fields.
For many of them now, Sicairos may have been right alongside on the football field or basketball court when they first got started. It’s that connection with the young athletes that also plays a big part in why he has no immediate plans to cut back on his time officiating.
“Being able to connect with kids who are doing Pop Warner and then they’re already in high school and establishing those relationships and that rapport, that’s definitely the best part,” said Sicairos. “Coming back each year and as I enter my seventh season, it’s been so cool just to connect with these players.
“Whether it’s on the field or around town, being able to see them and reconnect when we bump into players throughout the valley, we really are part of that development of kids who are going through middle school and high school.”
Given the dwindling numbers locally and nationally for sports officials, what’s Sicairos’ sales pitch to get more community members involved?
“I always tease my buddies that I get paid to exercise,” he said with a laugh. “It also entails knowing the rules and the mechanics and it’s competitive, too. But you’re developing as an official and there’s always things to learn from other officials. That’s part of my pitch, that you’re always learning and growing and, of course, being a part of the game they miss.”
Be it football or basketball, officiating has helped Sicairos stay involved in sports well past he thought he ever could.
His knowledge of the games he officiates has grown, but also has the appreciation and enjoyment of being on the field or in the gym when he’s done with his classroom for the day.
That’s not too shabby of a return for what began as a short-term investment.
“It kinda feels like I’m about to get my (master’s degree) or my doctorate with my eighth year (of officiating coming in 2022),” Sicairos quipped. “I was really happy I committed to it and I was really happy that I ended up doing it for the long haul. I keep coming back because it’s a great group and everybody’s just passionate about the game. That intimidation I had early on, it really just grew into just developing as a better official and just learning from my past experiences.
“Each year, I’m continuing to learn more and more, and seeing these kids develop and grow up is really cool.”
Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.
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