Veteran official Montana honored

Tony Montana suffered an injury two years into his Youngstown State University football career.

The center from nearby Ursuline High School eventually graduated from YSU in 1973.

Montana wanted to stay close to the game he loved and played for the Irish before graduating in 1968.

He picked up a copy of the Tribune Chronicle and noticed an advertisement for Warren G. Harding’s night school, offering an officiating class as part of its adult education program.

Montana took the class, started officiating and liked it.

That was 1974 and he was 23 years old.

He started with former local officials like Bob Marino, Larry Griffiths and Art Davis.

Montana, who is 68, officiates with his brother Pat, Eric Marino and Joe Bettura on Friday nights.

Tony is being inducted into this year’s Ohio High School Athletic Association Officials Hall of Fame on June 15 in Columbus.

“I thought I knew the game,” Montana said. “I’m going to be totally honest with you. Everybody thinks because you’ve played baseball, that you played football, you know the rules. But you just don’t know the rules until you get into a book and read them and somebody explains them to you. That’s how I enjoyed doing it. That’s how I learned it, with other people.

“I worked with some pretty good guys that helped me along the way. You don’t do this on your own. It’s not a one-person officiating crew.”

He’s worked basketball games in his career, but hasn’t done that for 15 years, along with some slow-pitch men’s softball leagues.

Montana has worked college softball games from Division I to III for the past 25 years, while he’s been on the OHSAA softball circuit for the past two decades.

“Fast-pitch girls softball is an exciting game,” Montana said. “More people should get to know that game. If you watch these girls, they’re good.”

He started with three-man crews in football and has expanded over the years.

Montana has officiated some memorable Harding-Warren Western Reserve games, but now makes memories with his crew at games like Massillon-Canton McKinley and St. Ignatius-St. Edward. They rotate the games every other year since they’re both on Saturdays.

“What excites me about it is the crowds,” Montana said. “I’ll still get excited to walk in the stadiums that have nostalgia to them.”

As fun as it has been to be an observer at these games and other sites, he knows the other side of officiating, the incorrigible fans.

He wishes fans were versed in the game’s rules, instead of seeing their ire spread out to officials, coaches and players — thinking they’re part of the game.

“It was never bad enough that it made me want to quit,” Montana said. “I think I’ve been blessed. I’ve been lucky to make it this far, keep my health and my legs. It hasn’t been an easy go. I’ve had knee replacements, four or five knee operations. It keeps me going.”

Most OHSAA officials are in their 60s and not many younger officials in their 20s and 30s are willing to fill the voids in all sports.

Montana hopes those aspiring officials give it a couple of years to get acclimated. Starting with the youth levels is rough, but it gets better once you advance to the high school level, he said.

Back when he started, it was hard to get a gig. Today, he gets constant emails wondering if he knows if anyone is free to do games.

“Nowadays, if you’re halfway decent, you’re going to get a full schedule,” Montana said.

Officials are coming in from Cleveland, Akron, Canton and south of the Mahoning Valley to officiate games because there aren’t enough local officials.

Football, the game Montana loves, may suffer because of the shortage and the fact most of the games are on Friday nights.

“This is what’s going to happen in high school football where you’re going to have doubleheaders on a Friday night because you don’t have enough officials. That’s not right,” he said. “If schools aren’t willing to play on Saturdays, when everybody plays on Friday, you’re not going to have enough.”

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