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Ed Goetz: a ‘humbled’ Hall of Famer

Saranac Laker honored by NYSPHSAA for distinguished career as basketball, football official

Ed Goetz stands in front of his home in Saranac Lake Thursday afternoon. After a career spanning more than 35 years as a basketball and a football official, Goetz was inducted into the NYSPHSAA Hall of Fame this past summer. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Ed Goetz says you get what you give. It’s something the Saranac Lake native’s parents told him long ago, and he’s pretty much lived by those words ever since.

Goetz devoted more than 35 years to a career he loved as a basketball and football official until his retirement in 2012. On a personal level, what Goetz got in return was the satisfaction of knowing it was a job well done. And when it came to being recognized by those he worked with and for, Goetz received a huge honor this past summer when he was part of the 2020 class inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame.

Goetz began officiating in 1976, starting with boys high school basketball. Three years later, he moved over to girls basketball and later stepped onto the football field as a high school referee. He also worked women’s college basketball, and during the last 10 years on the job, Goetz traveled around the Northeast refereeing at the Division III and Division IAA (now the FCS) college football levels, which included games in the Ivy and Patriot leagues.

While he was a referee, Goetz also worked for more than 20 years in the New York state corrections department as a recreation leader, starting at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora and then moving to Adirondack in Ray Brook.

During an interview at his home Saranac Lake, he said whether it’s inmates, student-athletes, friends, fellow officials or family, it’s all about treating everybody the same.

“I always felt, as my parents always said, ‘You get what you give.’ If you treat somebody a certain way, they’ll treat you that way,” he said. “It’s a different situation with inmates and athletes, but it’s also the same — you’re still dealing with people. I’ve always tried to not be disrespectful and not talk down to them. I tried to follow the same approach whether I was at work or on the field or on the court.

“It’s a lot easier if you talk with athletes respectfully,” Goetz continued. “If you’re a hardass to them, kids can sense that. I’m not taking a shot at the kids who were around when I first broke in, but kids today are a lot smarter. They are very intuitive. You converse with them. You’re not yelling at them.”

Goetz explained that it takes time to develop into a good referee. For him, that began with paying dues working at the modified and junior varsity level while learning the job.

“Today’s young officials, they want that instant gratification. They want the big game, they want the varsity game the first year. I did football, and it was three years before I got my first varsity game. They wanted to make sure you were going to cut the mustard when you got on the varsity football field. It was a long process.”

During his career, Goetz worked in plenty of the big games. He was an official for nine seasons in the NYSPHSAA state football tournament, which included three years refereeing the state championship finals at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. He served another 13 years working the girls state basketball tournament.

He said in the end, it really didn’t matter if somebody is working an important varsity game or a contest at a lower level between two winless teams; they should be treated exactly the same.

“One thing that really bugged me was when I hear a young official say, ‘I didn’t get the big game.’ I’d look at them and say, ‘Do you understand the game that you got? Twenty-two kids are going to be out on that field, and those 22 kids worked as hard as the kids I am going to have Friday night. That’s their big game. Don’t sell them short, and don’t give it a half-hearted effort. Go out with the intention that you’re going to give it the best job that you can do.'”

Goetz’s involvement in officiating went well beyond being on the field. In addition to mentoring younger officials as they climbed the ladder, he served three terms as president and interpreter of the Northern New York Girls Basketball Officials Association, and he was president of the New York State Girls Basketball Officials Association from 2007 to 2009.

Although the only time fans see the referees is on game day, Goetz said there’s a lot more than goes into officiating. He cited the weekend trips to work Ivy or Patriot League games as a prime example.

“College football, that’s a no-nonsense organization,” Goetz said. “I’d leave Saranac Lake on a Friday at about noon, get there, check into my hotel, have dinner and then usually from around 8 to 10:30, there would be meetings, watching films, taking a test. I was up in the morning, breakfast at 7 and arrive at the field around 10 for a 1 o’clock game. And then after the game, which might end at 5 if it was a TV game, you’d meet with the supervisor of officials and go over everything. Then going back to Saranac Lake from Princeton or even Dartmouth, which is the closest, by the time I got home it was 10 or 10:30, and I was up the next morning to go to work at 7.

“There’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes than people realize,” he added.

Goetz is one of a handful of Saranac Lakers who enjoyed long careers as officials who worked in both Section X, where Saranac Lake competed when he first started, and Section VII. The list includes Frank Turner, Steve Farmer and the late “Bub” McGrain, who first encouraged Goetz to become a referee.

“I got to meet some tremendous friends — who are still to this day — through sports officiating. You get that camaraderie and the friendships. Their families and my family were friends. You watch their kids grow up; they watch my kids grow up. It cycled through. It was a lot of fun, it was a lot of work, and I was very fortunate to be there.”

When asked what it felt like to be enshrined in the NYSPHSAA Hall of Fame, with the likes of football greats Jim Brown and Boomer Esiason, and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, Goetz said he was “humbled.”

“I thought, ‘Hey, I’m in the same crowd as those people.’ Those guys are legends. I’m not a legend. I’m just a common person. For me, I was honored, deeply honored, but I think the only word I could come up with was humbled. What an honor. For me, I just think of all the people who I worked with over the course of time — all of the officials, the coaches, the administrators, but most of all the athletes.”

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