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.)

MHSAA, MHSFCA to Provide Spring Evaluation Camps for College Football Hopefuls

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 27, 2023

The Michigan High School Athletic Association, in partnership with the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA), will be hosting first-ever Spring Evaluation Camps to provide athletes with aspirations of playing college football opportunities to show their skills and abilities to college coaches at one of five locations.

The one-day camps will take place between May 15-18 at Jenison High School, DeWitt High School, Jackson High School, Brighton High School and Detroit Country Day High School. The MHSAA’s involvement will allow for the opportunity for Division I college coaches to attend, and representatives from college football programs at all levels are expected.

Athletes who will be juniors or seniors in Fall 2023 may register to participate via a link on the Football page.

“This is an attempt by the MHSAA to help our athletes get exposure during the spring evaluation period in a way that does not intrude on spring sports,” said Brad Bush, an MHSAA assistant director and past high school and college football coach. “We are working with the MHSFCA to help put together a first-class experience for the athletes and college coaches.”

Cost is $20 per player, and each registrant will receive a shirt to wear based on the athlete’s graduation year and registration number so college coaches in attendance can monitor their camp performance. College coaches also will receive registration information for each athlete in attendance.

All athletes must have a coach from the athlete’s school staff present at the camp, and that coach must be a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association.

MHSFCA executive director Andrew Pratley called the Spring Evaluation Camps a tremendous opportunity for high school athletes in Michigan.

“We are very excited with the partnership with the MHSAA that allows our kids the opportunity to wear a helmet and do drills in front of college coaches in the spring at a minimal cost,” Pratley said. “College coaches are thrilled, and it's a unique opportunity to have the rules waived by the MHSAA at these events only in order to showcase the tremendous talent all over the great state of Michigan.”

The Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) has been devoted to the promotion of high school football since its inception in March 1972. The MHSFCA has more than 2,500 members and provides several educational and development opportunities for members and their athletes, including an annual coaching clinic, an annual leadership conference for coaches and potential team captains, and the annual summer East-West All-Star Game for graduated seniors. Additionally, the MHSFCA’s Leadership Development Alliance is in its third year of training coaches and offering veteran members of the association as mentors.

The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.