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Forest Grove native Carl Heisler retires from officiating after a memorable 46-year career

One night, 46 years ago, Carl Heisler was talking to his wife, Kathy. Heisler had

recently graduated from

Linfield College and he and his wife had been married for about a year.

“God, I need some more money, to at least buy some beer or something,” Heisler said to his bride. “I think I’m

going to officiate football.”

And so began a memorable 46-year

career as a football and basketball referee that saw Heisler officiate both prep and collegiate games.

In the beginning, there was no place to buy referee pants for football, so Heisler would buy painter’s pants instead. Back then, the officials used red and white flags. Heisler made just $25 a game.

Almost half a century later, football flags are yellow, Heisler can buy an official’s uniform at any sporting goods store, and he makes $60 or $65 a game.

“I started out for beer (money) and that’s about what we ended up with,” Heisler says, laughing. “We never really made a lot of money on it, but we had a lot of fun.”

This season, Heisler decided that it was finally time to hang up his whistle.

“The head referee at home, my wife, told me to,” Heisler says of the decision to retire. “And at my age, it was going to give me more difficulty to get up the next day and not have to crawl to the bathroom. I was stretching my limits.”

Heisler’s last game as an official came earlier this month when he oversaw the OSAA Class 6A semifinal football game between Jesuit and Sheldon at Jeld-Wen Field.

“It was just tremendous,” Heisler says of his last hurrah. “It’s been 46 years and I got to do a very good semifinal game between Jesuit and Sheldon and we had a good time.”

Heisler says that he is at peace with knowing that he has officiated his last game. For now at least.

“I’m not going to feel (sad) until next year when everyone else gets to go out and do the games and I’m sitting at home,” Heisler says. “It’s not going to be easy next fall. But, right now, it is a good feeling.”

Before he became an official, Heisler was a star athlete at Forest Grove High. Playing tailback on the football team his senior season, in 1960, he led the state in rushing and touchdowns, scoring 96 points in seven games. He was also a talented basketball point guard and a shortstop in baseball.

After he graduated from Forest Grove, Heisler went on to play football for four years at Linfield. He also lettered in baseball there in 1964 and ‘65.

Heisler recalls himself always being polite to officials.

“I never did have any moments to argue that I remember,” Heisler says. “As the captain of the football team (at Forest Grove), I remember one official — he was a big guy — he put his arm around me. I go, ‘Wait, a minute, I don’t need that in the middle of a game.’ That was just his way, though.

“I never argued with (officials). I don’t remember it anyway. Maybe I’m not as insightful on that than some of my friends who seem to remember everything that we did in high school.”

Being an official soon became a way for Heisler to stay connected to the sports that had always been such an enormous part of his life.

“I was never a teacher, or able to coach,” Heisler says. “I did some coaching in the summer with my son and daughter. But refereeing was able to really keep me close to sports.

“Officiating is kind of a fraternity. It’s amazing how I could go onto the field and still, at 69 years old, have two or three of my crew be 30 years old and we would relate well. I enjoyed that part.”

Throughout his career, Heisler always tried to enforce the rules, but he used common sense before blowing his whistle.

“I know as a player that you never really know the rules like you should,” Heisler says. “You think you do, but you don’t. So many of the players think in black and white. They’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m being held.’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, well the play went clear over on the other side, so it didn’t effect it. I’m not calling that. I’m going to talk to the guy or something.’

“I had a philosophy that we’ve got to keep these games rolling along and that’s much better than me showing how many flags I can throw.”

Heisler never played favorites unless a game turned into a blowout.

“I never felt that I favored one team over another unless it got really out of hand,” he says. “If it got to be too big of a score, then you are overlooking some things and only picking the ones that really count.”

Heisler says that not making calls can be as important as the calls that an official does make.

“Most of the time, we’ll go through a game and I’ll say if I have 60 or 70 chances to throw a flag and I only throw four or five, I still made 60 calls,” Heisler says. “There were a lot of no-calls.”

It is the nature of the job that no matter how many correct calls an official makes, they will always be remembered for the calls they got wrong.

This is how Heisler tells the story of his most infamous mistake:

“We had two well-matched teams between La Salle and Gladstone a couple years ago,” Heisler begins. “We’re at La Salle and we have them going for No. 1 or No. 2 in the league. Normally we use five-man crews, but that night we were only using a four-man crew.

“We got into the proverbial ‘Lost a Down’ (situation). We gave them five downs instead of four. I thought it was fourth down. I was changing the chains to go the other way. Then the off official comes in and says, ‘Carl, the La Salle coach says it’s only third down.’

“I said, ‘Oh no, no, it’s fourth.’ But I go to my crew and I don’t have anybody on my crew that could tell me it was fourth down. I went across the field to the coach. He complained that it was only third down and he still has a fourth down. I talked to his statistician, he said, ‘It’s third going into fourth.’

“I go across the field to the Gladstone coach and said, ‘They’re telling me it was only the third down, that they get to have fourth. I need to talk to your statistician.’ He was up in the booth. I got on the horn and talked to him and he also agreed that it was third down going into fourth. To make things really bad, they set up for fourth down and they kicked a 47-yard field goal to win the game.”

The call still bothers Heisler a bit, especially because it received so much publicity.

“That’s one you don’t really like to see happen because it was a great game,” Heisler says. “It was a tremendous game. And the coach that we (cheated), he was great, so I had a lot of respect for him. The trouble was that someone else was watching and they put it on YouTube and there I am in the training tape for the next damn meeting. I didn’t like that at all.”

Heisler was able to take the bad call in stride.

“People keep bringing those calls up just to give you a bad time,” Heisler says. “But, mostly when they give me a bad time I think they respect you. They’re not being negative about it, they’re kidding you. They only remember the bad ones.”

Interestingly, Heisler says that refereeing

college athletics is much more simple than prep athletics.

“You recognize that they’re bigger and they’re faster,” Heisler says. “But, most of the time, as you moved up the chain, the games got easier. I never had a problem in a college game where I was worried about a parent or someone coming out of the stands, whereas you can have that happen any time ... at the lower levels.”

Heisler officiated football games for Portland State just before they went into the Big Sky Conference. He officiated small college men’s and women’s basketball, and Big Sky and Pac-10 women’s basketball games for 20 years.

Heisler loved basketball, but eventually gave it up six years ago when it got to be too taxing.

“I was traveling the Northwest all winter,” Heisler says. “I was gone more than I was home. Probably the biggest thing was that the travel was the killer. I enjoyed basketball. I really did. It’s more physical, so I kept in better shape. Basketball is a good competition sport.

“I probably gained ten pounds easily when I gave up basketball five or six years ago. Football is not quite as strenuous and it did keep me moving.”

Looking back on his time as an official, Heisler fondly remembers competing within himself to be the best official that he could be.

“Most officials are competitors just like the kids that they’re officiating,” Heisler says. “They like to get into the big games, they like to make sure you can handle it. First you love the competition. As you move up, the competition gets better and we’re getting paid more too.”

Heisler has some regrets about spending the last 46 years as an official. But, he is more than happy that he chose to become a referee.

“Some of the regrets you have is that I probably missed some of my kids’ things when I was out on the road,” Heisler says. “But, overall, officiating has been a great experience for me and I’m very happy that I started into it.

“There’s a lot of nice people you meet along the way.”

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