August 08, 2003 11:00 pm
OFFICIATING BROTHERS: Greg Orton of La Grande, left, and Ab Orton of Union, will be officiating the East-West Shrine game in Baker City at 7 p.m. today. (The Observer/PIERRE LaBOSSIERE).
OFFICIATING BROTHERS: Greg Orton of La Grande, left, and Ab Orton of Union, will be officiating the East-West Shrine game in Baker City at 7 p.m. today. (The Observer/PIERRE LaBOSSIERE).

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

Ab and Greg Orton put hundreds of miles on their vehicles during the school season, plying what seems to be a lonely trade.

But, they love it. They love the people they get to meet, and the kids they get to work with.

The Orton brothers officiate high school football games, and they were recently selected to work together on the crew officiating the East-West Shrine Game in Baker City tonight.

Greg, who lives in La Grande and works at Fashion Floors Carpet One, and Ab, who lives in Union and is the Cove Postmaster, have worked countless games together. Ab also officiated at the Shrine game many years ago.

However, this is the first time they were both selected for the prestigious Shrine game.

The Ortons began their love affair with sports when they were kids growing up, as part of a five-boy family, all of whom played football, basketball and baseball. "We just enjoy sports," said Greg.

The Ortons, who combine for more than 40 years of officiating experience in football, basketball, softball and baseball and even a few years at volleyball, will work at their specialties during the Shrine Game. Greg will work as the umpire, while Ab will be the referee.

When asked about the difference between the umpire and the referee, Greg quipped, "the referee overrules everybody."

Actually, the umpire sets up camp in the middle of the defensive backfield and is usually the official that spots offensive holding. The referee is in the offensive backfield and calls penalties on the line of scrimmage and roughing the passer, etc.

Greg commented that he and his brother take their officiating pretty seriously. They work well together, but "we argue with each other" too, he said.

Ab began officiating in 1968 and has done it off-and-on ever since. "I've been around long enough that I have no idea how long I've been officiating," he said.

But, he figures he's been doing it for more than 20 years total. He also officiated basketball games for many years, though he no longer does that. He continues to umpire baseball and softball.

The Ortons got the call that they would be officiating the Shrine game together from the local officiating commissioner, Neil Cooper. "‘I think it'd be neat,' he said," commented Ab.

Greg's excited about getting picked for the Shrine game. He said there's little pressure for such a high profile game, "because it's more of a fun game."

Ab responded that there's no pressure on Greg because he's the umpire. "He can go the whole game and not do anything."

As referee, Ab has to run the whole officiating show, and announce all the calls to the sidelines and the crowd.

The brothers said that there's much more pressure officiating football playoff games. Greg said that while playoffs are extremely important games, the kids are usually the best coached and most focused players they'll see all year, so there are usually not as many penalties to call.

Greg and Ab travel all over northeastern Oregon to officiate games. They often will officiate two games on one Friday, then officiate middle school and JV games in the middle of the week. They've traveled to as far as Monument and Dayville and Jordan Valley to officiate games.

Greg said he loves dealing with the athletes. He said there are a few "weird eggs" he's dealt with over the years, but most of the kids in this part of Oregon are very respectful. In football, because of all the breaks between plays, there's plenty of time to talk to the players. They often times will ask the referee what they did wrong, but they'll do it politely.

"It's nice to work with the kids," he said. The Orton brothers said the kids who play in the Shrine game are not only some good athletes, but they tend to be the best all-around kids in the state, as well.

Greg and Ab said that being an umpire and referee in the middle of the field, they don't have to take a lot of abuse from fans (though Ab said he has been called a "gray-haired and four-eyes"). The abuse is often heaped on the younger officials running up and down the sidelines.

The Ortons said one thing they deal with as officials is that many fans, players, and occasionally even coaches, don't realize there is a difference in many high school rules from professional rules.

Ab said that for instance, many high school fans don't understand that the idea of an "uncatchable ball" doesn't apply in high school when pass interference is called. Greg commented that some high school quarterbacks have believed they could legally throw the ball away out of bounds if they run outside the tackles — an NFL rule, but not a high school rule.

Greg and Ab said they do find officiating 8-man football difficult, because 8-man is so wide open and the play is so much quicker.

Also, Greg said that more strange things happen in 8-man games. "A lot of weird stuff happens because of of the smaller communities, weird plays," he said.