The landscape of high school football has changed drastically over the past four decades — with changes in rules, the speed of the game and even the size of the players.
However, amidst the countless changes and all of the talented athletes that have come and gone through the Anchorage sports scene over the past 40 years, one thing has remained constant.
At 76 years old, Harold Wilson is still routinely officiating high school football — even the state championship games.
He began reffing in 1978 when a coworker recommended that he try his hand at officiating high school basketball. Ironically, he made the decision thinking that he was “getting pretty old" at the time and he might not be able to keep up with the kids who were getting “faster and stronger.”
"I went out and I thought ‘Oh, this isn’t too bad.' I actually enjoyed it.”
Wilson is from Tampa, Florida, and after graduating high school in 1960 where he was a multisport athlete, he joined the Air Force. Following a 23-year career he retired while stationed at Elmendorf Air Force base and remained in Anchorage.
Even while reffing football, softball or basketball a few nights a week, Wilson has yet to retire — working in sales for Taco Loco.
Wilson continues to ref because of his fondness for children and “seeing them grow."
"I’ve seen kids who were six years old — and didn’t know anything about basketball — become all-state players. I just enjoy being out there running with the kids — and it’s exercise. My doctor tells me I need to get exercise.”
Along with officiating games, Wilson also goes to the gym five to six times a week.
For tournament games, ASAA (Alaska School Activities Association) chooses referees based on merit according to a curated list of officials given to them by their respective referee organizations. Wilson belongs to different referee organizations for each sport: Anchorage Football Officials Association, Anchorage Amateur Softball Association and Anchorage Sports Officials Association (for basketball).
Each association assigns their officials for regular-season games.
Since Wilson has been officiating for over 40 years he frequently gets chosen for the state tournament games.
Wilson says his favorite game that he’s officiated is the 2004 Large School State Championship football matchup between the West Eagles and the North Pole Patriots.
“West had been beating the crap out of everybody all year,” Wilson said.
The game was intense before kickoff, with West refusing to shake hands with North Pole after the coin toss, according to Wilson.
“When the game started, one of the kids from West hit one of the North Pole kids — and he didn’t fall. The North Pole kid looked at him, then looked at his teammates and said ‘Oh, we got this!’ ”
Wilson recalls North Pole taking advantage of being in the heads of the Eagles on the way to a crushing 44-13 victory.
Wilson says that football has drastically changed over the years and with so many rule changes, he has to relearn the rulebook just about every season. Not all the changes have been good for the game, he says.
“The rules have changed so much that they’re making athletes afraid to do stuff. When you’re timid or afraid to do something, that’s when you get hurt."
Wilson also notices that athletes and coaches today tend to rely heavily on athleticism rather than honing technique.
“I don’t see a lot of coaches teaching technique like they used to. Now, if a kid’s fast, they’ll say ‘OK, go run,' " Wilson said.
Back when he played basketball and football in the late 1950s, athletes didn’t spend as much time in the weight room or training in the offseason as they do now that “sports have become more of a year-round thing."
He also says that today’s athletes "are stronger, faster and they jump higher. Games today are won in the weight room.”
Wilson doesn’t look at his age as an obstacle and hopes to continue reffing as long as he is “given the opportunity" to do so.