It’s a thankless task, officiating in any team sport. Just ask Cayman’s flag football refs Arthur Screaton and Andreas ‘Zulu’ Kettner, they’ve been taking flak for years.
Yet they still find the enthusiasm to turn out and officiate the six flag football games at the Dart International Field, Camana Bay, every Saturday afternoon.
Screaton started playing flag in the early days for two or three seasons from 2001 when matches were at the rugby club in South Sound.
A stickler on the rules, he decided to referee when frustration set in on seeing random players doing it on an ad hoc basis.
‘It got to the point where they needed to have officials who knew the rules as opposed to any old quarterback,’ says Screaton.
‘I decided to step back and to help the development of the game start to officiate. I loved playing but officiating was more important.’
Then he adds wryly: ‘Sometimes I think people would rather have us still playing!’
So what makes them sacrifice their precious spare time? ‘We just love it and it’s a spectacular sport,’ says Screaton. ‘It has a lot of appeal and it’s expanding.
‘This year we have a ladies league and hopefully we can get the kids going in the schools.’
Phil Jones was dismissed from the match for dissent early in the game between Dog House and Stingers on Saturday. That was not typical behaviour from the Stingers player who usually has the biggest smile on the field, win or lose. At least he took it with good grace.
Flag games are keenly contested but tempers are rarely lost.
Screaton says: ‘Well anytime you’re keeping score between two teams there’s a lot of enthusiasm and everybody’s going to have their own point of view. In all sports these days, it’s never the players’ fault, it’s got to be somebody else’s.
‘Whenever you’re in a small island and a lot of people know each other, there’s a lot of push to win.’
Zulu laughs: ‘It’s always the referee’s fault! No matter what happens, it’s always our fault!’
Zulu is Cayman’s sole distributor of Red Bull drinks which is the main sponsor of the Cayman Islands flag football league. Teams sometimes play at 100mph as if they’ve taken advantage of Zulu’s free Red Bulls. He doesn’t mind, he is totally absorbed with the game.
Both officials anticipate the playoffs, involving the Goldfield Cayman WB Hellcats, Dog House Bulldogs, Caybrew Farm Soldiers and Hammerheads Pirates being closely fought affairs.
Screaton adds: ‘I always look forward to the playoffs. The games get a little bit more competitive, they’re a bit more edgy and the play is at a higher level than the seasonal games.
‘I think anyone of the four teams can win the championship this year. They are all capable of beating each other on any given day.’
Screaton is pleased with the way the inaugural women’s league has taken off. ‘We saw today Jose’s Gasolinas win their first game of the season on the last day. They’re a team that embodies what you want in sport.
‘They came out every week and played hard even though they weren’t winning.
‘This is something that shows the success of the league. I think the women’s league is what sport should be all about, having a good time when you’re playing.’
Zulu’s, an Austrian, used to play too. When Screaton left the island for awhile, he filled in and they’ve been a double act ever since Arthur returned.
Zulu says: ‘I just love American football. The players haven’t questioned my ability to learn the rules, it’s my accent and Arnold Schwarzenegger jokes that they find hard to deal with.’
Darrell Porter has played for Stingers for five years and appreciates what the refs have contributed to flag’s development. ‘It’s a great league, a lot of fun and something for us to do at the weekend,’ he says.
‘The camaraderie out here is just awesome. Every one of these guys on different teams are friends. That’s what makes it fun, but we all have that desire to win.’
Stingers lose more often than win and sometimes even struggle to find nine men to make up a side. To have a squad big enough just for offense and defense is a luxury. Yet Porter turns up loyally and even sometimes brings along his wife, Tasha, and daughters Kylie and Carmin.
‘This is all about the love for the game,’ he says. ‘I’ve had a couple of opportunities to switch teams but it’s a good core of guys out here and that’s what keeps me with them.’
Porter does not envy the tough job the refs have. ‘Overall they’re very good,’ he insists. ‘They’ve improved a lot over the years. I know in the beginning people were a little shaky on them because they made some seriously bad calls for the first two years but they’ve grown and Arthur is probably one of the best refs here by far.
‘Zulu’s done the most growing though. We still get some sketchy calls from him but the thing is the guy’s 100 per cent committed to it and that’s what makes it so great, the fact that he sponsors it and it’s a big thing for him.’
Dog House’s Denver Classens feels the same way. ‘The refs are fair in what they do and they’ve improved a lot,’ he says. ‘In the early days a lot of people would yell at them and speak s*** about them but no one else wants to do it and now they do a good job. Personally, I think we couldn’t find better refs.
‘It’s great that Zulu is sponsoring it, I love Red Bull.’