Darren Haas never saw it coming.
But he’s always been ready.
Haas just completed his second season as a center judge official in Division I football, predominantly working in the Mid American Conference.
And as he starts to reflect on his last 25 years of officiating sports, setting goals of reaching the next level has never really been his thing.
While in high school, Haas started umpiring summer baseball at Fishero Park in Crawfordsville, and continued as a coordinator for the umpires while in college.
Following graduation, Haas felt like it was right to go ahead and get his baseball license, just to be able to work games at the high school level.
“When I started officiating I didn’t do it with a goal in mind,” he said. “I did it because it was something I enjoyed as a kid.”
In the late 1990s Haas sat across from now veteran official Mark Maxwell at a baseball licensing meeting at Lafayette Central Catholic, and over 150 baseball and softball games later, the duo began to lay the ground work for what has turned into two successful officiating careers, allowing both to work multiple state championships across football, basketball, and baseball.
“I learned a ton from him, he learned a ton from me,” Haas said. “We bounced ideas and traveled everywhere together, and became great great friends.”
Through the first decade of the 2000s, Haas continued to work baseball, and started working football, all while leading Crawfordsville’s girls’ basketball team to a 124-72 record and a regional championship in nine seasons. Still the desire for something more in officiating, wasn’t there.
“I just wanted to work games,” he said. “I had no desire to do college. I was coaching and married and had kids. It wasn’t even a thought.”
And then the first big opportunity came.
Haas and Maxwell decided to get serious and had an evaluator watch them do a game.
“We decided to get serious and had an evaluator come and he ripped us apart,” Haas said. “Showed us how good we weren’t, and how good we thought we were. But he made us really good, and we have him to thank for doing that, and that jumped me into my college career from there.”
Later came the opportunity for Haas to work in the replay booth at the Big Ten level, and in 2010 he stepped away from coaching, started working on his administrators license, and working college games at the Division III level.
Luckily, Haas decided to continue working high school games, because that’s where the biggest break of his officiating career came.
While working the very first Class 6A state title game in 2013, director of basketball officials for the Big Ten, John Adams was in attendance, and one phone call from him to Bill Carollo, who was in charge of football officials in the Big Ten, landed Haas the opportunity of a lifetime.
“He saw me on the big screen during the game and was like ‘this guy is really good,’” Haas said. “So he called Bill Carollo, and said you need to have this guy on your staff. So Bill Carollo called and left a message on my phone and said welcome to the Big Ten, we are going to hire you.”
“I was working a high school game,” Haas added. The right person was there to watch, and you never know who is watching.”
Haas has made the jump from Division III and Division II and NAIA to Division I AA and now all the way to Division I A under the umbrella of the Big Ten, which has landed him in the MAC.
After starting his college career as a referee, Haas moved to the center judge position last season, which is the assistant to referee, and backup for the all positions. Haas also stepped away from education after a five-year stint as the principal at Southeast Fountain Elementary School, and now is an insurance agent for RT Insurance in Crawfordsville.
And now 25 years later, Haas can admit the success he’s had as an official has driven him to set goals.
“I want to be in the Big Ten,” he said. “Absolutely no doubt about it.”
With the dwindling number of high school officials, Haas offered his take on the differences in sportsmanship from the high school level to college and pro.
“At the collegiate level we love their love and passion for their team,” he said. “In high school it’s not the love or passion for your school, it’s the love or passion for your kid.” “So they are so blinded and so one-way for their kid that it’s so hard. You can call a foul on a kid and they’re ‘oh it’s not a foul,’ and everyone in the building saw that your kid fouled. Your kid isn’t perfect, no kid is perfect.”
Haas realizes that every athlete, coach, and official, especially in high school, will make mistakes.
“Just cheer for the kids, don’t be rude to the officials,” he said. “All of those guys are out there dedicating their time. They’re making $60 or $70 a game, they’re not making thousands of dollars, like in the college level we are, and we can take that.”
He believes that the kind of kid is changing, and we are all partial to blame for it.
“The mental toughness of youth, the days of participation trophies, when that started we all started to become a little softer,” he said. “Either you win the game, or you don’t. And when you don’t, you shouldn’t really get anything. Get better and next year maybe you can win. That kind of mentality that you’re all winners, sets kids up for failure. It sets up so many negative situations.”
Haas, just like any other parent, understands that everyone can have tunnel vision when it comes to their kids, but he can offer a different point of view with an officials background.
“When you watch a pee-wee basketball game and a dad is out their officiating a basketball game for the first time ever, anybody with any basketball officiating knowledge is going to look at him and be like ‘he has no idea what he’s doing,’” he said. “But he’s trying his best and volunteering his time to be out there, so I would never say anything negative to the guy, unless he said ‘hey can you help me.’”
“I would be like I’d be more than happy to give you some pointers on where to go, and what to look for, because they did it for me,” Haas added. “And I think giving back is important, and I love doing that.”
Educator by trade, Haas loves working with young officials, and believes that of high importance in retaining guys has the numbers continue to decrease.
“If you want to be an official, I’ll meet with anyone, if they want it. If you have a desire,” he said. “I’ll do anything to help you get better, and come watch you work and maybe work a game with you.”