Crampton Hanging Up Official's Whistle After 46 Years of Giving Back

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

October 26, 2022

After most high school football games end, the referees typically head for the exits, get to the locker rooms and head home. Rarely do fans, players and coaches notice how they disappear. 

Southeast & BorderThings were a little different Friday night in Ottawa Lake. 

After Ottawa Lake Whiteford beat Pioneer (Ohio) North Central 30-0, the fans stayed in their seats, the players stayed in the handshake line and coaches gathered around as retiring referee Tom Crampton received his place in the spotlight. After nearly 50 years as a high school football referee, Crampton had blown his whistle a final time.

“I feel like I’m at that point,” Crampton said. “I wanted to go as long as I could. I’ve been fortunate to get to this stage.”

Crampton turned 76 in September. The Jackson native got his start as an official during the 1977-78 school year after hurting his knee in a flag football game.

“I was just running across the field and heard something pop,” he said. “I realized my playing days were over. I had a friend who was an official. He got me into it.”

For years Crampton was a football referee in the fall, basketball official in the winter and umpire in the spring. He gave up the other sports about a decade ago but never wanted to give up football, the game he learned as a 10-year-old growing up in Jackson under the tutelage of Howdy Woods.

“He brought sports into my life,” Crampton said. “He worked with the juveniles of Jackson County and was an official himself, I believe. All of us kids knew Howdy. He got me started in sports.”

Sports became a lifelong passion for the retired director of pharmacy for Henry Ford Allegiance. When he and his wife Colleen had children, he thought about stepping back from his referee duties, but his family wasn’t having it.

“My wife and children all encouraged me to keep doing sports,” he said. “When the kids were younger, I said, ‘I really need to taper this back,’ and they didn’t want me to. They followed me. My wife was my biggest fan. After I retired from work, I thought maybe it was time, but she would not let me quit.”

For years Crampton was a back judge. He transitioned to umpire a few years ago because he felt he was better equipped for that role than running up and down the field.

Crampton and Dauterman bring Whiteford and Pioneer North Central players together at midfield prior to Friday’s game. Chris Dauterman has been an official for 27 years and was a back judge for years before becoming a crew chief only few years ago. Crampton joined his crew when the group of officials he had been working with for decades disbanded due to retirements. 

“It’s hard to imagine being dedicated to a hobby that long,” Dauterman said. “That’s really what it is, a hobby. Nobody who does this is doing it for the money. They are doing it for the love of the kids and game. I give him all the respect in the world for putting up with the things he does for so long.

“His knowledge of the rule book and mechanics of an officiating crew is unbelievable,” Dauterman added. “I’ve worked with a lot of officials over the years. In the three years I’ve worked with Tom, he’s helped me transition from back judge to the crew chief. The knowledge he has is tremendous. It’s nice to have him as a sounding board. As another official, it means the world.”

Crampton lives in Lake Columbia, not far from Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. He primarily has done games in the Jackson area, including the Cascades Conference and Southeastern Conference the last few years. Friday he was doing a nonleague game between Whiteford and a school from northwest Ohio.

The game ended prematurely when North Central pulled its players off the field at halftime due to injuries and lack of available players to continue.

Before anyone left, however, Crampton was presented with a golden whistle and received a standing ovation for his years of service. After the handshakes, players from both sides greeted Crampton at midfield.

Crampton said most kids haven’t changed in the last 45-plus years he’s been on the field with them. Except for just a few players, most are respectful of him and the sport.

“When I played in the 60s, sports were an extension of the classroom,” he said. “It was learning things of life and that things don’t always work right. There are failures sometimes, but you go on and you pick yourself up and you respect those around you and the competition. 

“I think that has waned a little over the years, but most of the kids haven’t changed. Being a referee has been a great experience. I love being out with the kids. Most of the kids out there are great kids, great people. You just have to give them a chance.”

Crampton said he realized his time as an official was nearing the end about a year ago when he said he couldn’t quite get into the position that he wanted during a game. He hopes new officials sign up for the gig and continue the tradition of helping high school athletics.

“We’ve tried recruiting some new officials,” he said. “They were moving up fast now from lower levels to varsity. We’ve lost so many officials over the last few years. I couldn’t have done this without the support of the MHSAA. I’ve enjoyed being everywhere and meeting all the people.”

Crampton worked two MHSAA Finals games during his officiating career and has memories of great athletes, great coaches, and great games to last a lifetime.

“I’ve been fortunate my whole life,” he said. “I’ll miss it, there’s no doubt about it. This is my 66th year of football. How lucky can a person be?”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Retiring official Tom Crampton, middle, shares a laugh with referee colleague Chris Dauterman and Whiteford varsity football coach Todd Thieken before Crampton’s final game Friday. (Middle) Crampton and Dauterman bring Whiteford and Pioneer North Central players together at midfield prior to Friday’s game. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

2024-25 MHSAA Officials Registration Underway

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 17, 2024

The MHSAA is accepting registrations online or by mail for game officials for the 2024-25 school year.

The MHSAA registered approximately 8,700 officials for the 2023-24 school year, an increase of nearly five percent over 2022-23 as the ranks continue to build back toward pre-COVID totals.

All officials who register may sign up for up to two sports as part of their registration. Officials also will receive membership in the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), which comes with a variety of educational and training resources and the NASO’s Shield liability insurance that will provide $6 million in coverage for officials while they are working both MHSAA and non-MHSAA events.

For new and returning officials, a $70 fee covers registration for up to two sports. Officials may register for additional sports at $16 per sport.

To avoid a $30 late fee, all fall sport registration applications must be received by Aug. 19, 2024. Winter sports registrations must be received by Nov. 18 to avoid the late fee, and spring sports registrations must be received by March 24, 2025.

Online registration can be accessed by clicking here. More information about officials registration may be obtained by contacting the MHSAA by phone at (517) 332-5046 or by e-mail at [email protected].

There is an officials' registration test for first-time officials and officials who were not registered during the past school year, derived from the MHSAA Officials Guidebook. New officials and those who didn’t officiate during 2023-24 also must complete the online MHSAA Principles of Officiating course. Additional exams must be taken by those registering for football or basketball for the first time or those who were not registered for those sports during the previous school year. Links to the Officials Guidebook, Principles of Officiating presentation and the football and basketball mechanics manuals can be found by following the “New Officials” link on the Officials page of the MHSAA Website.

There also are opportunities to officiate for students at least 14 years old and in grades 9-12 through the MHSAA Legacy Program. Juniors and seniors may officiate subvarsity contests, while freshmen and sophomores may officiate contests at the middle school/junior high levels. Mentor officials will work events with Legacy participants to provide guidance and support. Find information on the Legacy Program by clicking here.