Whether the game is played on the court, between the lines or on the ice, sports lend the lion’s share of attention to the athlete. They are who the fans come to the game or turn on the television to see. If the officials are in the spotlight, it often means there is a tense or high-stakes situation to resolve, whether it stems from emotions between the teams, or from a contentious call made by an official.
Sport officials are under pressure every play of every game, and a perfect day on the job will often be done in near anonymity. A new ministry is helping to bring officials out of the background when it comes to sharing their faith.
Sport Officials Surrendered, or “S.O.S,” is a multi-faceted outreach ministry for in-game officials of all sports at all levels, with the purpose of encouraging networking among officials of faith, and providing resources and services to help facilitate this goal.
Dan and Alicia DiFolco co-founded S.O.S in the spring of 2018.
“There are many great ministries for players and coaches focused on using their roles in sport to glorify our Heavenly Father. However, just like them, referees and umpires were created with a unique passion for the same reason: to glorify God,” Dan said. “It is our mission to unite the body of Christ who call themselves referees, umpires, judges or what have you for not only fellowship, but as a foundation of faith support within our profession.”
— Sport Officials Surrendered (@_SOS_Ministry) September 11, 2018
A native of Littleton, Colo., Dan is a former college baseball player and graduate of Central Washington University who turned in his spikes for stripes as a small-college basketball referee in Washington state.
Alica, a native of Olympia, Wash., completed her Discipleship Training School at Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Colorado Springs, Colo., upon graduating from high school, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in nutrition at Central Washington.
Dan and Alicia married in 2015, relocating to their current home in Ellensburg, Wash.
Dan says that S.O.S always has an eye on future initiatives, but the objective remains the same: to welcome Jesus into the officiating profession, and introducing officials to Him.
“We want to have a presence at a variety of officiating camps, clinics and conferences going forward,” Dan said.
S.O.S hosted the first annual Referees Embracing Faith (REF) Conference in August. The one-day event saw close to 100 sport officials gather at Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, Texas, to worship God together and learn from an all-star line up of speakers.
Speakers included 18-year veteran NBA referee Pat Fraher, retired 32-year NBA referee Ed Rush Sr, as well as former NCAA Division I basketball coach Homer Drew. Darron George, an NCAA Division I basketball referee, was the emcee, and former 25-year NBA referee Steve Javie hosted the event.
Though still in its infancy, S.O.S has already assembled an advisory team that includes some of the most accomplished officials from multiple sports, including Fraher from the NBA, George from the NCAA basketball ranks, and this fall welcomed 20-year Major League Baseball umpire Ted Barrett into the fold.
Dan DiFolco shares his team’s heart for REF Conference.
“REF Conference is an amazing opportunity to gather together sport officials from all different sports from the youth levels up to the pro ranks, to fellowship and give glory to God through our shared passion,” he said. “Our mission is to unite the body of Christ by encouraging fellowship and a foundation of faith within the officiating profession.”
Fraher was behind the birth of the REF Conference concept.
“After I gave my life to Christ last November, I pestered Him in prayer about what I could do,” Fraher said. “Three days later, I was suddenly awoken with the idea of the REF conference. Along with the idea of the conference also came a sense of clarity and purpose.”
“It’s clear that we are all different parts of the one body of Christ and it just so happened I was assigned to the officiating part,” Fraher continued. “I believe we are all called to do our role within the circles of influence that we have been given. REF conference was meant to unify all officials of faith and to minister to the officiating community as a whole.”
Fraher delivered a message that focused on the concept of ego, and how it relates to officiating and faith.
“Ego can be boiled down to that prideful and selfish part of ourselves,” Fraher said. “When we let the ego direct our lives, we get ourselves into trouble. I realized it was my ego that was holding me back in officiating, in life in general, and with God. My ego was putting myself first and I was being selfish in every aspect of my life.”
“Ultimately, life becomes a battle to overcome that pride and selfishness. The first step in that battle is to understand who you are fighting,” Fraher concluded.
The second annual REF Conference is scheduled for August 17, 2019, in Mason, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. Barrett, crew chief of the 2018 World Series, has been confirmed as a speaker at the event.
Save the date! REF Conference 2019 will take place on August 17, 2019 in Mason, Ohio on the campus of Prasco Laboratories! Speakers headlined by Ted Barrett; 2018 World Series crew chief! Further details to come. #REFCon19 @PrascoAGs @RefLifeGear @MLBUA pic.twitter.com/X4lJ4rXYgB
— Sport Officials Surrendered (@_SOS_Ministry) November 26, 2018
“I love the idea of REF Conference, bringing officials together in corporate worship and learning how to be better officials and better men,” Barrett said.
S.O.S is cultivating relationships and partnerships within officiating and ministry circles, and this summer announced a partnership with Ref Life, a faith-based producer of premium athletic apparel for umpires.
S.O.S has a bold vision and direction from multiple officials who work the highest levels of their sports already on board to help guide the organization, but DiFolco and his team will keep letting God direct their paths.
“Anywhere officials are, we want to be there and be available to them. If we as the body of Christ are imitating Jesus, the Holy Spirit will do the rest,” DiFolco said.
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