Sunday, 15 December 2019 21:35

Wright officiates 4A football title game, calls it 'best experience'

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Dan Wright (back row, center) was joined by friends and family as he officiated Saturday's 4A state championship game. Dan Wright (back row, center) was joined by friends and family as he officiated Saturday's 4A state championship game. Contributed photo.

CHAPEL HILL — An officiating career that started nearly 30 years ago reached its pinnacle for Richmond County native Dan Wright on Saturday.

Wright, a 1994 graduate from Richmond Senior High School, participated as a member of the seven-man officiating crew for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 4A football state championship. 

Played at UNC’s Kenan Stadium, East Forsyth High School defeated Cardinal Gibbons High School 24-21 to claim its second straight title. While he’s been refereeing football for the better part of the last decade, it was Wright’s first career appearance in a championship game.

In recent memory, Wright joins fellow Richmond County referees Jason Graham and Chavis Everett as officials to work the sidelines in a postseason finale. He considers both Graham and Everett to be personal mentors and a “big influence” during his officiating journey.

“Stepping onto Carolina’s field was definitely one of the highlights of my career,” Wright said after the experience. “It was very exciting to be there, and I’m very honored to have been chosen.

“The game was very competitive, and it was obvious both teams came out to win,” he added of the Eagles and Crusaders. “Both were very disciplined teams and both coaches were very respectful. By officiating standards, it was a very smooth game.”

While still in high school, Wright began officiating soccer in 1992. He played soccer for Richmond and was a captain for the Raiders during his sophomore through senior seasons. Following graduation from UNC-Pembroke, Wright also became involved with football and basketball officiating.

He’s spent time officiating at several levels, including recreational sports in Richmond County, as well as high school and college football, and high school basketball and soccer. This season, Wright also officiated 10 college football games between the Old Dominion Athletic and USA South conferences, and said “nothing compared to stepping on the field at Chapel Hill.”

Ahead of Championship Saturday, which saw the NCHSAA conduct its eight state championship games, Wright was notified he’d been selected to officiate the 4A contest. He explained that his name came up in the conversation and he was selected by his booking agent Neil Buie.

Following Buie’s recommendation, Wright was approved by Mark Dreibelbis, the NCHSAA’s supervisor of officials. Joining Wright on Saturday in the 4A game were Ronnie Blount, Navarro Whits, Rusty Scopano, Jimmy Williams, Darrell Page and Anthony Maynor.

During the state playoffs, Wright also officiated at Charlotte Catholic High School (3A) in the third round and at Lee County High School (3AA) in the regional championship. 

“You have to work very hard to have your name put in the conversation,” Wright noted. “I’ve worked scrimmages, attended training sessions year round, and I give 110 percent as an official.

“My job is to try and help the players inside the lines,” he added. “We’re there to help the kids learn lessons and play the game right. But part of being selected is always being in the right position and making the right calls, smiling, and being approachable and communicable.”

Noting the 4A championship is the “second top game” behind the 4AA contest, Wright said it was exciting to see the game come down to the final couple of plays. Trailing by three points with 2:25 left in regulation, the Crusaders made it down to the East Forsyth 24-yard line.

Back-to-back sacks by the Eagles’ defense backed Cardinal Gibbons up to the 39-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-26, quarterback Andrew Harvey aired out an incomplete hail mary pass, seeing the comeback attempt fall short.

“That was an exciting way to end the game,” Wright recalled. “As officials, we’re on pins and needles because we want to make the right call. But on that play, we never came into the play.

“Saturday was one of the best experiences I’ve had officiating,” he closed. “My family was there to support me, and we were treated very well by UNC.”

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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