Kids from both sides of the Carolina divide one day hope to represent their home state in the annual Shrine Bowl.
Apparently, the same goes for game officials as well.
After more than 30 years officiating high school football games on the Grand Strand, Pawleys Island resident Donnie Strong was selected for this year’s all-star tilt.
It is the latest addition to a resume including 11 football state championship games and the North-South all-star game.
“I am really excited and extremely honored to be chosen for this year’s Shrine Bowl,” he said. “It has been a goal of mine since the I did the North-South game in 2000. While it is great being selected, I don’t know if people know about the process but to be an official in the game you truly have to earn it as well.”
Officiating positions alternate between North and South Carolina each year, limiting opportunities for selection for the game. That along with other tough criteria truly make opportunities such as his own very rare, Strong said.
“They take the number of years, along with an annual exam that goes into your rating,” he added. “Then your peers rate you during the season as well as cooperation points. So knowing you’re alternating spots every year, it makes for slim pickings.”
On occasion, Strong missed out on the honor by as little as a tenth of a point.
We have a saying that if we can walk off the field and no one remembers, we’ve called a good game. Honestly, it’s a no-win situation. Sometimes you’ll miss something, but your goal is to be as fair as possible and ensure players are safe.
Longtime high school football official Donnie Strong
The Pawleys Island man was not simply thrown into fray immediately. He actually spent his first few games surveying action from the press box.
“I actually started as a clock operator,” Strong said. “My first game on the field was at Green Sea Floyds, and to tell the truth it was a bit scary at first … mainly because I was the new guy.
“But I was confident in what I had learned, and all I had studied.”
Strong officiated his first state championship game in 2001, a 17-10 Marlboro County win over Conway. He also was part of a crew officiating Myrtle Beach’s conquest of South Pointe in 2010.
“You can’t help but marvel at the names that were on those games,” he said. “In the first one, it was (Marlboro County’s) Syvelle Newton. That one in 2010, it was Everett Golson and Jadeveon Clowney who went on to play college ball and the NFL.
“Aside from the star-power, those games were pretty good too.”
Saturday will be the culmination of a career for Strong. Yet, his hope is for few if any can tell he is sharing the turf with North and South Carolina all-stars.
“We have a saying that if we can walk off the field and no one remembers, we’ve called a good game,” he said. “Honestly, it’s a no-win situation. Sometimes you’ll miss something, but your goal is to be as fair as possible and ensure players are safe.”