The following article was one of the US Lacrosse impact stories that appeared in regional editions of the April print edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Have the magazine delivered right to your mailbox and help support the positive growth of the sport by becoming a US Lacrosse member today.

Seldom does a tale of a high school athlete running his mouth during a game end well, but it has for veteran men’s lacrosse official JP Bennett.

Bennett, who recalled falling in love with lacrosse as an 8-year-old when he watched a Cornell-Syracuse game on TV, talked frequently while roaming the midfield for Delcastle Technical (Del.) High School in the early 1990s. Ironically, the former agitator turned rules enforcer now is in the midst of his 13th season officiating college games. His schedule includes a healthy dose of NCAA Division I contests, highlighting a 25-year ascension from youth to high school to the sport’s most-watched level of play.

“Every year my schedule has gotten better,” said Bennett, the assigner and high school rules interpreter for the Delaware Lacrosse Officials Association. “But without Doc talking to me because I was running my mouth, I wouldn’t be here.”

Bennett’s tale personifies the success of the DLOA’s junior officials program, which teaches interested high school players how to officiate youth games. Relationships, specifically the late and legendary official Dr. Bob Schweitzer’s unrelenting outreach during some of Bennett’s high school games, got him and kept him in the officiating ranks.

“I was a sophomore and talking during a game, and afterward he asked if I had any interest in officiating,” Bennett said. “A couple weeks later, he was on another game and asked me again. We actually became friends. When I graduated, he stopped taking no for an answer.”

Bennett finally agreed, learning under Schweitzer while playing for the University of Delaware club team. Bennett worked youth games for a couple years before moving up to help fill a void as more high schools in the First State fielded teams. He’s now recruiting for the DLOA junior program, currently under the direction of program alum Michael Hernandez.

“Greg [Bulger, DLOA president] and I played with or against a lot of the high school coaches, so when we work a game, we’ll ask them which players might be interested, and we’ll talk with them,” Bennett said. “Communicating with students, putting the bug in their ear, building and holding onto those relationships even if they’re going away to school — that’s paying off because we’re getting officials that start young and stay with it.”

Hernandez started officiating youth games while he was a defenseman at Polytech (Del.) High. A health interruption aside, he’s stayed with officiating and works high school and collegiate club games regularly. He started helping Mike Wilbur with training for youth officials before taking it over prior to the 2018 season.

“We probably have averaged 20 kids per season since I’ve been involved,” said Hernandez, a US Lacrosse-certified trainer. “We had 19 go through last spring, and I have at least 20 signed up this year. I’ve had a blast working with the kids. We’re all trying to address the need for officials as the game keeps growing.”

High school students must join US Lacrosse and take the national governing body’s online youth rules test. Hernandez puts the recruits through the paces with four hours of classroom training and more on-field training of two-person mechanics. Funding from the Delaware Lacrosse Foundation, the state’s chapter of US Lacrosse, provides recruits with uniforms and rulebooks.

Freshmen and sophomores typically work the youngest level of rec league games, while juniors and seniors may be paired with an adult on a U15 or U13 game, according to Bulger.

“The US Lacrosse Officials Development Program online tests and materials have been helpful, particularly as it allows us to spend more time with the guys on the field,” Bulger said. “They actually come out of all this as certified junior officials.”

Bulger teaches the applicant class for adults in the state. He noted that four recent graduates of the junior program are on the DLOA’s roster to officiate high school games. Two other program grads work adult men’s games during the summer while they are home from college.

Bennett this year will be joined in the college ranks by Kyle Fry, who got his start while playing at Brandywine (Del.) High. His father, Frank, is a longtime official. Hernandez said he plans to try out for NCAA lacrosse officiating after this season.

“We’ve had to be good about training, because for a while, there were so few officials,” Bennett said. “We’re seeing other officials associations share some of the training things we’re doing on social media. It’s not ‘lacrosse in Delaware’ with an eyeroll anymore. The players are better, the teams are better, the coaching is better, and we’re improving the officiating alongside.”

Become an Official

Officiating is a perfect way to stay actively involved in the game. The officiating community is the “third team” on the field and through officiating you can develop friendships with others committed to the game.

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