Early Christmas present for Tyler officiating crew


A crew from the Tyler chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials was chosen to call the Texas Class 5A Division I state championship football game played Dec. 22, and “words can’t describe the honor,” said the crew’s referee, Larry Clemens of Gilmer.

Clemens, officiating his first state championship game in 31 years of calling high school contests, worked Allen’s 35-21 win over Houston Lamar at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Joining him was his crew of umpire Jim Jiral of Longview; head linesman Lance Mathis of Lindale; line judge Tracy Ainsworth of Tyler; side judge Buddy Furqueron and field judge Randy Dove, both of Whitehouse; and back judge John Teague of Wills Point.

“Obviously, it was a dream come true, ... an early Christmas present,” for the 62-year-old Clemens, he told the Tyler Morning Telegraph in a telephone interview Friday.

It also came as a surprise to him.

Clemens and his crew had worked four playoff games, including two in the first round, and “I just figured we were done, that we wouldn’t get any more games. So my wife (Sally) and I had already booked a trip to Seattle” to spend Christmas with relatives.

On Sunday night, Dec. 16, only six days before the state contest, Clemens got a phone call from the secretary of his officiating chapter informing him of his and his crew’s honor.

“And I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. There’s only one problem. I’ll be in Seattle.’” He asked the secretary to let him call back, saying he had to work out some details.

Working out flight arrangements wasn’t easy because flights were somewhat booked up for the holidays, Clemens said. He was flying to Dallas from Seattle on Friday while Gilmer was losing its class 3A Division II state championship game to Navasota, 39-3, in the same stadium where he worked the following night.

He got up Sunday morning and flew back to Seattle.

How did he and his crew get this plum assignment?

“The coaches actually picked us,” Clemens said. “The Houston Lamar coach and the Allen coaches got together and they wanted to use the Tyler chapter. It’s what we call a coach-pick assignment ... where the coaches hear of your crew and they decide they want to use the Tyler chapter. They heard that our crew was available and (was a) pretty good crew, so they picked our crew.

“It was really a great honor. Words can’t describe the honor and the privilege it is to do a game like that.”

Clemens, who also officiates college football, had never called a game at the high school level higher than the quarterfinals. Did he feel special pressure calling such a big one?

“I have butterflies before every game ... but once we kicked the ball off, I was fine,” he said. Once the game started, he observed, “it’s just like a normal football game,” although there was much excitement and anticipation beforehand.

Since the game on Fox Sports Southwest was televised nationally, Clemens had relatives watching him in several states. His wife, their daughter Sara Clark, son-in-law Danny Clark, and two grandchildren, Carter Clark and Claire Clark, watched him in a Buffalo Wild Wings in Tacoma, Wash.

At Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where the Clemens’s son Luke Clemens is stationed in the U.S. Navy, he was watching, as were relatives in Oklahoma and California.

“I had ‘em all over the place,” Larry Clemens said. “Kind of fun, you know.”

In addition, the veteran official’s phone “blew up” in the days before the game, once word got out he was refereeing it. He heard from some people for the first time in years as he fielded congratulations.

Besides calling games, which he notes he has done “half my life,” Clemens owns the Brown, Cook and Taylor Insurance Agency, Inc., in Gladewater. He is a member of the Gilmer Church of Christ.

Summarizing his experience of calling Saturday’s game, he said, “It was everything I thought it would be and more.”

Phillip Williams is a correspondent for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Contact him at sports@tylerpaper.com.