He has a ball making the call

Despite long hours, thankless work, Auburn official enjoys his role on the field
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on football officiating in the foothills. For Part II, come back Monday. On a good night, Dan Costello will get home around midnight. That’s only if he’s scheduled “locally” — east of Oakmont High. He’ll have just enough energy left to throw his stripes in the washing machine and chase four Advil with a tall glass of iced tea, his favorite throat soother after four hours of blowing a whistle and negotiating with crewmates, players and coaches. Costello is one of more than 200 Northern California Officials’ Association members who spend the last three nights of every week during the fall officiating high school football in the Sac-Joaquin Section. “A good crew will have fun during a game,” said Costello, who lives in Auburn but regularly travels as far south as Galt and as far west as Napa for three hours of helmet-hitting. “If we screw up, we will get it right. I do not remember a game that was not fun to officiate.” Costello has overseen action on gridirons for 14 years, but he felt like a rookie standing next to his crewmates during a Battle at the Capital showcase game at Folsom High earlier this month. Including Costello, the five officials boasted a combined 108 years of football experience. “There are many reasons we do this thing,” said the 52-year-old Costello. “Some do it for extra income. Some do it for love of the game. Some do it as a way to give back to the community. Trust me, it is not about the money.” Officials like Costello can earn more than $100 working a JV/varsity doubleheader on a game night, but it isn’t much when you consider the average 70-mile roundtrip commute. “The interesting thing is, based on scheduling criteria, sometimes the assignor needs to send people from Davis to work games in the foothills on the same nights officials who reside in the foothills need to travel to Napa,” Costello said. “Given traffic patterns in our area, many of us need to leave work two or three hours early to make it to the field. We are paid for our commute time, but the long trips make for 16-plus-hour workdays at times.” Despite the annoyance of frequent and lengthy travel, Costello keeps coming back. “What we do matters to the kids,” he said. “I once joked to my neighbor that what I do helps keep spray paint off his garage door, but there is an element of truth to that. The foothills are a great example of the community supporting sports as an extension of the classroom, and there is nothing like Friday night homecoming, or working the big rivalry game.” Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 280 pounds, Costello is often the largest presence on a field full of big athletes. An offensive tackle during his playing days, he coached football and founded and operated youth football organizations in the Bay Area, where he also officiated baseball. He moved to Auburn from his native San Jose in 2000 as part of a job change at Hewlett-Packard, where he has worked for 30 years and currently manages complex international business programs. Some of his most complex administration duties, however, come under banks of bright stadium lights. “I know that no matter what I do as an arbiter of the rules, one team is likely to disagree with me,” said Costello, who worked Wood High at Davis Thursday and will officiate Rosemont at San Juan tonight and Encina at Cristo Rey Saturday. “In general, a spectator or a coach does not see what I can see from my perspective on the field, so how people ‘feel’ about our decision does not affect me,” he continued. “ A coach or a player can ask me a question any time during a game, and if I have time I will engage and answer. We work to get it right. “I know the difference between passionate communication and abusive communication. One I will allow, the other I will not allow. This approach creates mutual respect between me, the players and the coaches.” Costello earns the respect of his fellow officials in a classroom setting, too. Last month he directed the association’s group education program for second-year members for the third straight year. The instruction for first- and second-year officials lasts 25 hours. “Many are children of officials,” said Costello, whose son, Matt, is in his eighth year with the NCOA after he started officiating youth ball as a high school sophomore. “He has the same passions as I for officiating, with half the age. My favorite single memory was watching him manage a coach that adamantly disagreed with one of his calls on a pass play. During a two-minute conversation at the end of the first half, I observed a 24-year-old official gain mutual respect with a head coach who was active in high school football longer than Matt had been alive.”