NORTH CANTON He’s spent 48 years under the Friday night lights, throwing penalty flags, keeping order and blowing his whistle, all while (sometimes) overly enthusiastic Northeast Ohio football fans loudly make their opinions on his performance known.
Larry Sweitzer has spent nearly five decades as a high school football official in Ohio, traversing Stark, Summit, Portage, Wayne and other surrounding counties working games. This month, he was recognized as the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Football Official of the Year.
“It means a lot because I’m in really good company with a lot of people who have won this great award before,” Sweitzer said. “I found out at one of our meetings and when they came up and told me I had won the award, I was literally speechless and that doesn’t happen very often.”
In the 48 years he has officiated games, Sweitzer has worked virtually every league in the Suburbanite coverage area, including some, like the old Metro League, that no longer exist.
He regularly does games in the Federal League, PAC-7, NBC, Portage Trail Conference and City Series and at one time or another, he has officiated a game for each school covered by the Suburbanite’s three editions.
The Alliance native worked as a chemist for 19 years and in sales for 35 more, but football officiating has been the constant across that time. At the age of 73, many could ask when Sweitzer plans to hang up his whistle.
“I’m going to go as long as I can. I’m going to go until my legs give out or maybe until they have to carry me off the field,” Sweitzer said with a laugh.
Asked what he enjoys the most about officiating games, Sweitzer pointed to the camaraderie with his fellow officials and the chance to “remind young people that there are rules and standards in anything you do.”
But largely, Sweitzer enjoys being around high school athletes because at the age of 73, he likes to be around the atmosphere that high school sports create.
“I love to be around young people because they keep you energized and help you feel young,” Sweitzer said.
There are the occasions when a fan or two will go too far in voicing dissent and cross the lines of good sportsmanship, but Sweitzer jokingly noted that “I can’t tell you what I’ve told them,” adding that the police officers who provide security at games do a good job of stepping in and making sure that situations don’t escalate.
Sweitzer was one of 15 different officials honored for their respective sports. The 15 honorees were recognized at the Ohio High School Athletic Association Officials Hall of Fame banquet in Columbus June 9 alongside new inductees into the hall of fame.
“The Officials Hall of Fame banquet is our opportunity to recognize individuals in Ohio for their outstanding careers and their service to the officiating community,” OHSAA Assistant Commissioner Beau Rugg said in a statement. “It is a joy to recognize these highly respected people with induction into the Hall of Fame. We thank all officials for their service to student-athletes, coaches, schools and other officials.”
Award or not, Sweitzer knows that when fall rolls around and he’s back in his familiar position on the field, fans and coaches won’t give him any leeway for his new honor if he makes a call with which they strongly disagree, but after 48 years in stripes on Friday nights, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
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