BY JIM MISUNAS
By day, Steve Webster of Eagle Radio conducts interviews to keep Great Bend residents informed on local news.
He coordinates a daily 1-hour show “Sports Day,” featuring local athletes, media and coaches from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Webster has broadcast college basketball games at Kansas State University, Fort Hays State and Barton Community College, as well as a variety of high-school sports.
Webster’s favorite hobby is football refereeing at the high school and junior high level.
Webster moved to Great Bend in 2009 from Wichita after the legendary Sacha Sanguinetti left the Great Bend radio station and Kenny Titus departed Great Bend’s high school play-by-play sports duties.
Webster’s officiating crew features referee Jon Shaver, 35 years; linesman Mike Marzolf, 22 years; line judge Mike Myrick, 21 years; umpire Webster, 13 years; and back judge Ty Racette, 11 years. The crew works games in the Central Kansas, Central Prairie, Heart of the Plains, Southern Plains-Iroquois, Great Western, Mid-Continent and NCAA.
Webster played football at Skyline High School in Pratt. He competed at the collegiate level at Tabor, where he played quarterback and defense.
He enjoys dressing in a striped shirt.
“I love football because it’s a great sport. The fun part is the comradery with our crew,” he said. “You get butterflies putting on a uniform getting ready for a football game on a Friday night. You feel like a kid again. You’re going ‘into battle’ with your friends.”
The crew has worked memorable games between Smith Center/Sedgwick; Holcomb/Ulysses; and Hugoton/Ulysses. They’ve worked games in St. Francis and Goodland.
“We’ve got each other’s back,” he said. “On the drive back home, we’re talking about a great call or a call you might have missed. If you’re not in the right spot, you can miss a call because you can’t see it. You’ve got to see something to call something. Coaches are good as long as you’re hustling.”
As umpire, Webster lines up in the middle of the defense.
“On a play, I’m reading the football and the guards in the offensive line,” he said. “If I read pass, I’ll step up and get out of the way. I can read a screen pass right away. With certain run teams, a lot of action is right up the middle.”
Generally speaking, Webster’s job is to whistle flags on transgressions that directly affect the play.
“It’s point of attack,” he said. “The biggest aspect I watch for is blocking below the waist. The chop block is one of the most dangerous plays you see. On a high/low block, a defensive player can get hurt. You watch where the football is going, so you can see the point of attack.”
Webster has avoided injury except for a 2020 game at Pratt, when he sustained a leg injury.
“You try not to move much. You don’t want to get in the way,” he said. “The runners find a way to miss you. You try and move in a straight line. Tight formations are harder to referee because it’s a block of humanity.”
Rules which focus on player protection has made high school football safer.
“Player safety is better,” he said. “They’ve taken out blind-side blocks and blocking below the waist. Coaches do a great job teaching how to tackle with your head up. We can identify concussions much better.”
Officials prepare mentally by watching online videos to learn the style of play by opposing teams.
“When you see video, you know the style they play,” Webster said. “On run-pass options, it’s hard to read run. Next thing you know, a pass receiver is coming right at you. You try to keep watching in a triangle to get three looks at a play.”
When do you call a flag?
“The best piece of advice I got from Great Bend’s Randy Wetzel,” Webster said. “When someone is cheating, you throw the flag.”