When the Evans High boys soccer team played Greenbrier on Feb. 25, referee Pete Franz was yelled at by both sides. He explained his decisions to players and coaches and eventually flashed a red card.
It wasn’t anything he hadn’t done 999 times before.
The contest marked the 1,000th U13 or higher contest Franz has officiated, about half of them coming in Columbia County.
The game was the type the retired Army intelligence officer from Evans has come to enjoy the most.
“It’s two competitive teams with skilled players,” said Franz, who has been a referee for over 20 years. “They’ll bring a lot of emotions and spirit to the game. As a referee you really want to be challenged.”
Soccer has played a central role in Franz’s life.
“I was raised overseas in Germany so my father had a strong passion for soccer,” he said. “I had three kids and as they were growing up they just fell in love with the sport, so we became just one big soccer family.”
Franz said when being a daddy-coach stopped being cool, he still wanted to participate in the sport and decided to become a referee instead of just complaining about them. Being in the Army throughout that time raised its own challenges.
“I’ve deployed to Afghanistan three times and Iraq twice,” he said. “Every time I came back I almost had to start from ground zero. You’ve got to requalify on your testing, you’ve got to get back out there and get comfortable blowing the whistle.”
Things he learned in the Army, such as people skills and conflict resolution, helped Franz in his role as a referee.
“You’ve got to be a leader out there,” Franz said. “You have to set the example for these players and coaches. You keep your emotions in check so you can ask them to have some self-control.”
Starting out, Franz took offense when his calls were questioned, but his attitude evolved. Now he encourages discussion as long as it is done in a professional manner.
“Over the years you learn that sometimes these players and coaches just want to be acknowledged,” he said. “And sometimes they see things you don’t see, so you have to put your personal ego aside and say, ‘OK coach I hear you.’ I’m amazed by that simple gesture how much credibility that gets you.”