River Parishes FOA set for debut

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 17, 2009


Its no secret that the River Parishes is something of a hotbed (“the” hotbed?) when it comes to Friday Night Football in Louisiana.

But when teams in the area look to contact officials, they’ve had to bring them from New Orleans, from Thibodaux, from Hammond…anywhere but here.

That is, until now.

The River Parishes Football Officials Association is the creation of longtime football officials R.G. Detillier and Hank Vicknair, who have spent over a year trying to establish a local association to provide mutual benefits to referees and this area’s schools.

“Two years ago, the River Parish coaches approached me about forming an organization for this area,” said Detillier. “For the schools, it would save them money on travel for the officials, which they’re responsible for. They’ve got to bring people from Hammond and Thibodaux…why not have a local organization? So we had lunch, and discussed the possibility.”

The group was finally sanctioned this past January by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

But it wasn’t easy – despite the earliest indications that it would be, Detillier says.

“I brought it up (at the football state championships in December) and they treated me like I was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Detillier said. “(LHSAA Commissioner) Kenny Henderson walked in and gives me everything I need to form the organization.”

But after that day, Detillier and Vicknair found the goings to be much tougher. At first, in order to get sanctioned, 10 schools were required to commit to using the association for their games, which the RPFOA had secured. But the rule was abruptly changed to 15.

“It was never about stealing schools or assignments from other organizations. But after the Dome Classic, I had eight million daggers in my back saying no way this thing happens,” Detillier recalled.

Feeling like the change came after his organization had already fulfilled the mandated requirements, he launched a lawsuit against the LHSAA.

But when Henderson asked him what it would take to drop the suit, Detillier says he had a simple answer.

“My day in front of the executive board of principals,” he said. “If I get that, the lawsuit will be dead.”

He was granted his request. After presenting his case, he was told that due to the lateness of the developments – it was less than 90 days before season’s kickoff – the motion would be tabled until this past January, where it was passed.

12 schools are on board for this coming season: East St. John, St. Charles, Riverside, West St. John, Hahnville, Destrehan, Lutcher, Donaldsonville, John Ehret, Helen Cox and Ascension Catholic.

The centralized location is a big boost to local officials, especially considering over 20 officials in the group hail from the River Parish area. While travel costs are covered, the time spent making long trips to games and meetings will be sizably cut.

“We all have jobs,” says David Hymel, a veteran official entering his 25th year, after 24 with Thibodaux’s association. “We do this after work. The logistics of these long trips – and we’re also dealing with J.V. and junior high games at that.”

Says fellow official Don McMahon, entering his 15th season: “You have to arrive about an hour and 15 minutes before a game. Then you factor in travel time…it can be a six or seven hour commitment, and you aren’t paid by the hour. You’re paid by the game.”

McMahon, who has been officiating with the greater New Orleans Area Football Officials Association, also praised the training regimen of his RPFOA.

“The training goes beyond what I’ve seen in the past, and I like that,” he says. “We watch game film, receive constructive comments on how to make our group better. It’s a progressive way of thinking. I’m not looking to move past this level, but I like what I’m hearing – these guys aren’t here to criticize, but to improve.” 

Particularly with new officials, Detillier says his group focuses on the fundamentals first.

 “The most important thing is mechanics,” he says. “If you’re in the wrong position, maybe 50-percent of the time you’ll get a call right. But in the right position, your chances increase tremendously. It’s the most important thing for a young official to learn first.”

Detillier says 53 officials are signed and registered, and eight more are expected to transfer.

Weekly meetings are held every Tuesday (currently at the Cajun Grill), where those looking to become officials can arrive early to register.

“We’re always looking for young officials,” Detillier says. “It will be an exciting year, and a challenge.

“One thing we’re preaching to our older officials is to help the younger ones along. We’ve got a lot of experience on staff, a great group.”