Last year, before a CIF North Coast Section Division IV playoff game between St. Mary’s-Berkeley and Justin-Siena, the public address announcer at Dodd Stadium took time to recognize the work of Tom Savage.
It would be Savage’s final game, marking the end of a 45-year career of officiating high school football games in Northern California.
Savage has worked all five positions on the field — referee, umpire, linesman, line judge and back judge.
He has worked Monticello Empire League, Marin County Athletic League, North Bay League, Sonoma County League and North Central League I games. He has worked both junior varsity and varsity games on the same night, both Friday an Saturday, and then on Sundays has gotten up early to drive to St. Helena to officiate Carpy Gang youth football games.
He has even worked on Thursdays for eight-man football involving the 12th Naval District.
“What I really liked was being able to see the different athletes from the various areas that we officiated,” said Savage, a Napa resident. “I really enjoyed reading about them and seeing how their athletic pursuits went later on, whether it was in college or professional. I’ve just enjoyed sports and going and having a chance to watch it from that perspective. I also got paid a little bit, so that helped out.”
It hasn’t been easy for Savage, 70, who works part-time as an instructional assistant for computer science after retiring in 2003 from the Napa Valley Unified School District.
He has spent his career teaching at Redwood Middle School and is now in his 45th year there. He was at Redwood Junior High, when it was seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders.
He was there when it was seventh and eighth grade. It’s now sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
After teaching all week, he would then get in his car and go to his other job, fighting traffic and congestion on the roads to get to his assigned football game — which could be in Mill Valley, Ukiah, Santa Rosa or Benicia.
“Trying to get to various sites, that was probably the most stressful, making sure not to get in an accident or have something happen,” Savage said Monday.
“It seemed that when you got to the game you were more relaxed, because I’m here and I can do this, and I enjoy what’s out here.
“We enjoyed doing what we were doing. Most of the time the games were well played and the kids and the coaches were great. There was an occasional time that maybe it wasn’t that.”
Joining North Bay Officials Association
It was back in 1968 when Savage was going to clinics in Contra Costa County, getting set to do games in that part of the Bay Area. But John Hattala, the principal at Redwood Junior High, and George Burger, the vice principal, changed his mind. They were already with the North Bay Officials Association. Savage joined the NBOA, which trains and assigns certified football officials for high schools and youth football organizations in Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Solano Counties.
“I have nothing but admiration and respect for the job that Tom did all those years,” said Justin-Siena coach Rich Cotruvo. “We’re going to miss him. Tom Savage is a class act.”
The NBOA formed in the mid-1940’s to service the North Bay League. Savage has been the recipient of several awards by the NBOA, including:
• Notable Service Awards (35 and 40 years).
• Current Service Awards, which are given for longevity in the NBOA (20, 25, 30 and 45 years).
• Al Lyon Award (1994).
Late last year, the NBOA honored Savage, a St. Mary’s College graduate who majored in political science and Spanish, at a banquet in Petaluma.
“It was a lot of fun,” Savage said of his career in football. “I certainly enjoyed working with all the different co-officials and the coaches and the players. It’s been quite a nice, long experience.”
Often times, he would not get back home until after 11 p.m. on Fridays and after 5 p.m. on Saturdays, making for a long work week.
“Without them, we don’t have a game,” Cotruvo said of officials. “They play a critical role. They don’t do it for a whole lot of money. They do it for the love of the game and a love for kids.”
Savage did the NCS playoff game between Calistoga and St. Vincent in Petaluma last year.
“It was a beautiful day on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. “It was just a fun game to work. There were very few penalties. It was a very positive experience.”
After the season, Savage informed the NBOA’s Pete Dardis, the high school officials assignor, that this would be his last year.
He wanted to get out for a couple of reasons: he didn’t want to get injured on the field at the umpire position and he wanted to spend more time at home with his wife, Michele. They have three sons (Brian, Dennis, Michael) and a daughter (Nicole). They also have four grandchildren.
“I thought, if (Michele’s) given up 45 years of Fridays and Saturdays during football season and never complained or anything like that, I need to look at that. I started thinking about it. We have a saying in sports: the kids stay at the age of 17 — we get a year older each year.”
As an umpire, you’re right on the field, 5 to 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive line and linebackers. The umpire watches the play on the line of scrimmage and looks for offensive holding, offsides, false starts and illegal blocks.
“The main thing is watching the five interior linemen on the offense and the down linemen on the defense and the action between them,” he said.
Laughing, he added, “The other thing is making sure they don’t run you over.”
Savage has been on the crew for the annual East-West Charity All-Star Football Classic and worked at Napa Memorial Stadium, one of the top venues in Northern California.
He did a James Logan-De La Salle North Coast Section championship game at the Oakland Coliseum and a Montgomery-De La Salle playoff game at California-San Ramon.
“I’m going to miss the fellow officials and various coaches that I got to know over the years. I really like Rich Cotruvo and his personality. I like Troy (Mott) and what he’s done and the fine staff that they have over there at Napa. I’ll miss the football games.”
Napa coach Troy Mott had Savage as his seventh-grade P.E. teacher and has great respect for his work as a teacher and official.
“Tom just understands that the game is not about him, it’s about the kids and he wants to get it right always,” said Mott. “He’s willing to really work with coaches, rather than work against them. I have really enjoyed when Tom works our games. I have the utmost respect for him as a man and as an official and as a teacher. He is truly just a fantastic human being.
“He’s a very, very good official. It’s really nice to know that you’re working with somebody that was willing to talk to you. That’s all you ask for. To me, that’s a sign of confidence. He’s secure in the job that he’s doing.”
Baseball, softball umpire
Savage will continue as a high school baseball umpire, which he has done for over 30 years, and softball umpire, which he has done for 20-plus years, with the North Coast Officials Association. He has also umpired Napa Valley Joe DiMaggio League, American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball, along with city league softball.
He has officiated prep basketball games and coached youth basketball. He has taught P.E., history, math, Spanish and computer science.
“Going to high school and growing up, I loved sports,” said Savage, who is from Santa Barbara. “I wanted to know what the rules were. I think I was a good athlete, but I prided myself in being able to know what the rules of the game were.
“It’s been a very rewarding, pleasant experience, being around young people. I just love sports — all sports.”