The high school football season is about more than touchdowns and big plays. People come together to make the games special each week. It could be an assistant coach, a musician in the band, a cheerleader or even a reserve player. The Press will shine the spotlight on one of these unsung contributors each Friday.
Paul Guyermelli proudly says he’s been within five yards of a football line of scrimmage for more than 40 years.
“I’m more comfortable there,” he said, “than I am almost anywhere.”
Guyermelli, 54, began to officiate high school football games in 1989. He grew up a lineman. He played at Hamilton East High School in Mercer County, and Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania in the late 1970s and 1980s.
“I wasn’t able to play at that same competitive level,” he said of why he became an official. “I missed it.”
Each high school football game is officiated by a crew of six — a referee, umpire, head linesman, line judge, back judge and field judge. The referee wears a white hat. All the other officials have black caps.
As the umpire, Guyermelli is in the middle of the action standing behind the defensive line and linebackers. Guyermelli spots the football after each tackle. Linemen crunch together right in front of him. Ball carriers speed by.
“I’m a linemen guy,” Guyermelli said. “I’m not your pretty-boy, white-hat official. I’ll never be that. It’s all about game control as an umpire. You control the big guys inside, and you’re going to have a good game.”
Guyermelli lives in Egg Harbor Township and works for Leidos Corp. at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township.
Guyermelli is part of the Atlantic Chapter of the New Jersey Football Officials Association. The Atlantic Chapter serves most Cape-Atlantic League schools.
Football dominates Guyermelli’s weekends. On game night, the officials arrive 90 minutes before kickoff. They talk to the coaches and captains of both teams and check equipment. Even on the high school level, the officials check to make sure the footballs are legal.
Few people love officials. Officials often hear some friendly and not-so friendly suggestions from fans and coaches.
“It depends on what they say,” Guyermelli said. “If it gets personal, I put a stop to it.”
An official’s work is not done after the game is over. Each crew reviews the game immediately afterward.
“We talk about any tricky plays,” he said.
On Saturday morning, Guyermelli compiles video from the Hudl website of every Atlantic Chapter official who worked Friday night. Chapter officials review the video. The chapter also meets Monday nights to discuss any controversial plays or coaches’ complaints from the weekend.
“What we’re looking to do is get better,” Guyermelli said. “You can never be perfect as an official. You’re going to miss stuff. But the goal is to see as much stuff as you can, so you can continue to advance.”
Schools pay officials $82 for a high school game. When all the hours are totaled up, they probably make less than $10 per hour.
“You do it for the love of it,” Guyermelli said. “The guys are dedicated.”