Tara Bone, contributing writer
Colorful leaves, crisp air, and pumpkins all signal autumn’s arrival, but for Justin Robinson of Paradise, fall means one thing – football.
Justin’s suiting up for another season of officiating college football for the Big Sky Conference. He spends fall weekends zigzagging across the west from game to game. Justin juggles a hectic schedule between refereeing, family life, and his “day job” as Chief Financial Officer for Lundahl Building and Edge Excavation, but says his officiating experiences make the schedule worth it.
“I learn something every week,” he said. “The life lessons I learn and the relationships forged are valuable. I’ve had both the most amazing and difficult experiences in games. I love the game and the lessons learned there.”
Justin’s love for sports started as a boy growing up on a farm outside of Burley, Idaho where he played basketball, football and, baseball. He said he’s always loved football, but didn’t plan to become a referee. He was introduced to refereeing 18 years ago, and since has learned from incredible mentors.
“If you would have told me one day I’d dress up in funny clothes and get yelled at, I would have said you were nuts.”
On a typical collegiate game weekend, Justin arrives at the game location the Friday prior to game day. He meets with his crew; seven other officials from California, Colorado, Montana and Idaho. The eight-man crew spends Friday studying film, evaluating past games, and preparing for the teams they’ll officiate the next day. They study different offenses and unique defenses so there’s no surprises.
“One thing you don’t want as an official is to be surprised and to run into something you haven’t seen before.”
The crew spends hours preparing and suits up Saturday morning to make final preparations. They arrive at the stadium three hours prior to kickoff. Justin says the average fan doesn’t realize the technical mistakes that can occur, but his crew takes their job seriously and works to prevent mistakes.
Justin says as harsh as fans and coaches can be on refs, the officiators themselves are their own toughest critics. Officiators are graded on every play and work hard to continually get better.
Justin’s wife, Janette, jokes that officiating is a 13-month year gig. Justin also refs high school basketball games. Justin and his colleagues spend their off season reviewing film, attending camps and clinics, meeting with officials from other conferences, and studying rules.
Over the years, Justin has learned to handle heated moments on the field and court. He said he’s realized that somebody is mad on every play and that it’s his job to separate facts from emotional complaints and take messages without emotion.
But Justin believes coaches have a tough job, and he knows this from personal experience. He’s currently coaching his son’s competitive baseball team and a Mountain Crest Youth Football team. He said he and his assistant coaches focus on sportsmanship and teaching life skills.
Justin and his wife Janette met while attending Utah State University. His family often travels with him when officiating Big Sky Conference games. They have two sons, Blake and Ryan, and two daughters, Emily and Hailey. It’s not all sports at the Robinson home though, Emily is currently the reigning Miss Cache Valley.
Whatever a child loves to do, Justin believes that athletics and extra-curricular activities can be an important teaching tool if used wisely.
“Sports are a fabulous place to learn and teach valuable life lessons,” he said. “But not handling [sports] situations correctly does a disservice to kids because everybody has to hang up the cleats one day and live the rest of real life.”