The following article was written by Brian Dobyns and was originally printed in the December 1990 issue of USA Ultimate’s (then UPA) Newsletter. Skyd thanks USA Ultimate for generously sharing this article with the Ultimate community at large.
The weather was beautiful. The fields were plush, I wasn’t playing-but I was there for a purpose. I was there to observe. What the hell, I’m certified, I plowed through Nob’s 1/2-inch thick C.O.P. Manual while traveling to Nationals. Drink some brews, watch some games, what could be easier? I picked up my neon green observing cap and my blue T -shirt from Eric Simon, had a brief meeting with my cohorts and headed to the field.
First game to observe, first call. Another Observer thought it was in, I thought it was out… “Are you out of your F…king mind?” one of them said as he offered me his glasses. No thanks, I’m fine, I’m just…well…observing.
The next game was easier with few calls. I was the Head Observer and I kept a low profile. ”Nice game,” one of the players said later, ”you should have been there. ” Not being there is part of the job I told him.
On Friday, “WE NEED CERTIFIED OBSERVERS!” came over the PA system. The game was Iguanas vs. Windy and these guys were flying. ” I wish I could take some pictures.” I said to a friend, ”These are some great shots.” ‘Don’t worry,” came a voice from over my shoulder ”you’d miss ’em anyway. ” At least he didn’t offer me his glasses, finally I’m getting a little respect.
On Saturday the hard work during pool play paid off. I was an Observer for the Iguanas vs. First Time Gary Semi-Final, clearly the best game of the entire tournament, and I was ready. The hat was backwards, the shirt was inside out, and the observing crew was good and seasoned with at least two games under each observers neon green cap. During the first half, a long pass came up the field and an Iguana planted his toes on the sideline and reached for the disc as it sailed out-of-bounds. He was tall and he leaned. His toes slid. He was out. I was standing in front of the Iguana bench and pointed both arms out-of-bounds.
I don’t remember what happened next. I think FTG scored. An Iguana grabbed me by my shirt. He wanted an explanation of my call. I begged him for my life. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I wanted him to be in, but he was out. I’m really sorry.” (An old softball umpire trick.) He let me live and the game continued. During the second half, Dr. King. a well respected surgeon and fan of Ultimate, called me over.
“Hey, Brian, how much would you take to rig this game?” he asked. I was appalled. When would Observers ever get more respect? Would we always be lackeys that could be beaten and bribed on the sidelines? I stood tall and looked him straight in the eye.
‘How much do you have?”
But, seriously folks. For the first time ever, Certified Observers, from the Certified Observers Pool, were available at a UPA tournament. Though this system of qualifying Ultimate players to observe games is still in its infancy, it was obvious that this system worked. There seemed to be less calls than ever before, and all calls required a decision from the players within 20 seconds. Active line calls eliminated awkward stoppages of play and the Observers generally were not noticed. And I have news for you. Observing can be a lot of fun. At Nationals, I had a great time observing games and it’s the next closest thing to being in the game, without touching plastic. No, not every player was glad they were being observed. Everyone agreed that a bad observer could make an ugly game worse. But most of them seemed to appreciate the chance to perform at their best without worrying about bogus calls by other players. For the most part, good qualified Observers were welcomed during the very important games.
At this point there is no tangible reward for observing games, and it is almost certain that you cannot make yourself more popular by observing. but if you’ve ever watched bad observing in action and said to yourself, “I could do it better,” then you should try it. Call the UPA and get an application to join the Certified Observer Pool. It doesn’t cost anything and, who knows, you may actually enjoy being an Observer. Stranger things have happened.