What does a veteran football official do on his 80th birthday?
At the urging of veteran official Bill Sherrill, John Critcher started officiating junior high and recreation football around Mooresville in 1969. After a year of officiating John was hooked. Bill and Ben Eller were his first mentors who taught him the trade. A former football player at UNC, John joined the North State Officials Association in 1970 when Reid Staton was the booking agent and registered with the NCHSAA. He attended clinics on the bleachers at Statesville High School. Back then officials received their assignments in the mail and John was assigned as the clock operator at South Iredell High School for his first high school game. By chance, one of the officials was running late and John was asked by the referee to come down and work the game. As they prepared, with nerves running high for John, the late official showed up and John was back in the press box on the game clock. That year he worked about 5 high school games and many junior high and recreation games.
The next year, John received a full high school schedule of 7 or 8 games. One night, he was assigned to a game at the NC School for the Deaf in Morganton, about an hour and a half drive from his home. It was a drizzly rain that night and, on the way, home he was so sleepy he stopped at an exit off Interstate 40 to use a pay phone to call his wife to let her know he had to rest before falling asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, the pay phone was out of order and he decided to take a short nap before driving the rest of the way home. Four hours later he heard a tapping on his window and a highway patrolman was asking him if he was alright, that his wife had called the highway patrol and folks were out looking for him.
In 1972, John’s work transferred him to Henderson in Vance County. Bill Sherrill and Reid Staton recommended John to Tommy Hunt, the supervisor of Triangle Football Officials. Once in the Triangle Football Officials Association, he worked for Tommy Hunt, Bill Kelly and finally Steve McNeill. He credits many officials for helping him learn how to officiate. Those include Bill Sherrill and Reid Staton of the North State officials in getting him started. From the Triangle, he said he is very thankful for the help and guidance provided by Sonny Ussery, Ted Jackson, Ed Toole, Bob Stauffenburg, Tommy Hunt, and Bill Kelly.
As John gained experience as an official, he recruited others to start officiating from Vance, Franklinton, and Granville Counties. With more officials in the counties north of Raleigh and Durham a clinic was started in Henderson around 1976 or 1977 and John has been the clinic leader since.
Every Friday night has been a highlight for John but some of the highlights of his officiating career are listed below:
State Championship Game in 1985 between Ravenscroft, coached by a young Ned Gonet and a team from Charlotte
East West Coach’s All-Star game in 1985
Shrine Bowl Game in 1992
NCHSAA state championship in 2002 between New Bern and Independence High School at Carter Finley Stadium.
In addition to being selected for many big games, in 1999 John was recognized as a recipient of the SONNY Award which was started in recognition of "Sonny Ussery who died in 1990 having officiated high school football with the Triangle Association for many years. Sonny positively impacted virtually all of the officials in the Triangle. He was fun on and off the field. The Sonny Award was created following his death to recognize a Triangle Association official who epitomizes those traits we found so endearing in Sonny and those traits that so endeared Sonny to us. Among others, those traits were: – a love of the game of football no matter what the level; – a genuine respect for fellow officials; and – an ability to make friendship a part of officiating.”
In 2000 John was recognized again with the Dick Knox Distinguished Service Award presented by the NCHSAA & TFOA. "Presented in recognition of devoted service to and involvement with young student athletes of our state. Your years of service and dedication are recognized and deeply appreciated. The lives you have touched during your career are a tribute to the positive influence of high school athletics."
On October 21, 2022, John celebrated his 80th birthday by calling the Eastern Alamance vs Northwood regular season football game with fellow officials, Tim Blum, Bradley Richards, Tommy Fallin and first year official Casey Kelley. The following week at Louisburg High School vs Bunn High School the PA announcer recognized John as he was working his last regular season game with fellow officials, Chris Summerlin, Jerry Thompson, Derrick Smith, and Mike Stevens.
John closed out an exemplary 53-year officiating career, when he called his last football game on November 4, 2022, as Warren County High School hosted Lakewood High School in a first-round playoff game. His fellow officials were Dean Thomas, Jeff Faulkner, Danny Druitt, and Mike Stevens.
So, what does a dedicated high school football official do on his birthday? When his birthday comes on a Friday night, it is celebrated with the 15–18 year-old student athletes and his fellow officials in a big party between the goal lines.
John, thank you for your many years of service to the student athletes of North Carolina, the Triangle Football Officials Association, and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. You will be missed on the field but the friendships you have made on the field will last a lifetime…