A longtime football referee hangs up his cleats | News, Sports, Jobs

Referee Bob Gilreath worked the sidelines on Saturday as the Gremlins hosted the Redmen at Alumni Field in Houghton. It was his last game as a football official after more than 30 years of calling games in the land of copper. (Eddie O’Neill/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — After more than three decades of refereeing Copper Country football, Bob Gilreath blew his last whistle on Saturday at Alumni Field as the Houghton Gremlins lost to the Marquette Redmen.

“At 63 and two bad knees, I feel like I’m 70” said Gilreath. “Time to hang up the cleats.”

Football has been a big part of Gilreath’s life since growing up in Michigan City, Indiana. After playing high school there, he came to Houghton for Michigan Tech University, where he studied forestry in the late 1970s.

He was a goaltender and president of the Tech soccer club at the time and was quickly sought after for his expertise in how to start a youth program.

“I think I’m one of the last original members of the Copper Country Soccer Association,” he said. “When the CCSA started, I did everything, but I was particularly interested in officiating and the organization of officials.”

Gilreath said there was no better place to referee youth football than in the Copper Country.

“It’s a unique framework for football, and it’s growing,” he said. “The parents here are fantastic. You hear about referees or officials being abused or fights breaking out during games – none of that happens here. We just have a great community here.

In particular, Gilreath, who retired from Michigan Tech six years ago after a career in computer networking, shared that he has enjoyed working with the U12 age group over the decades.

“That’s where I was able to teach both players and parents about the game,” he said. “Their attitudes were great and I will miss seeing the kids having fun. I love this game and have loved passing it on to young people in the community over the years.

He said he will also miss the exercise.

“You get a great workout running down the sideline in a football game,” he said.

With that in mind, he issued a call to action for anyone interested in becoming a football referee.

“We now have recreational, select and secondary soccer programs in this region,” he said, “And with that, you can never have too many referees. I encourage anyone who loves football to give it a try.

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