Down, but not out; injured official finishes playoff game
Who said footballs referees aren't tough?
Grant Harding has officiated well over 120 high school and college football games in the six years he's been donning the zebra shirt. On Saturday, it was the first time he has been injured.
"I'm the back judge so I am usually out of the way of the players," he said. "I've maybe been stepped on once or twice, but no injuries at all."
That all changed early in the first quarter of the Section 3A semifinals between Minneota and Dawson-Boyd at K.P. Kompelien Field.
Early in the game, Minneota fullback AJ Josephson burst through a big hole up the middle and raced to the goal line before being tackled at the two-yard line.
Harding saw the play develop and knew he needed to move quickly.
"I saw him coming through the big opening with no one ahead of him," Harding recalls. "I knew I needed to beat him to the goal line."
Harding felt his left calf muscle tighten and knew he wasn't going to make it to the end zone.
"It was about my third step that it felt like someone was grabbing my calf," he explained. "I told the other officials that I was hurt and they called for the trainers. I didn't hear a 'pop' or anything. I thought it was just a bad cramp."
The trainer attempted to stretch the calf muscle for a couple of minutes and then asked Harding if it felt any better.
"I told them no," he said with a laugh. "It never felt any better. I knew I wasn't going to leave the game, but it was the toughest four quarters I've ever played or officiated."
Onlookers were sure the officiating crew would be one man short.
"He has a passion for sports," said Mark Ekren, who was the crew chief for that game. "They would have had to amputate both of his legs before he would have taken himself out of the game."
Ekren moved Harding from back judge to umpire after the calf injury so he didn't have to run quite as much during the game.
"I don't normally stretch before a game," Harding said. "I guess I will have to after this."
Harding's officiating season ended with the section playoff game. Now he has time to recuperate.
"It was still pretty sore Sunday morning, but I took some ibuprofen, put on some IcyHot and wore compression socks to keep the swelling down," he said. "It was much better on Monday."
Harding, 43, is a parcel pre-sorter for UPS in Fergus Falls and is also the head baseball coach at Fergus Falls Community College.