Joe in 1983
Seventy-eight year old Tyrone resident, Joe Scordo, has been officiating area high school football games for half a century, so it’s a good bet that if a person in central Pennsylvania is a football coach, player or fan, they have seen him toss a yellow penalty flag or two.
After 50 years of being a PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) official in the District Six George Iuzzolino Chapter in Altoona, Mr. Scordo has decided to hang up his spikes and whistle after the 2008 high school football season.
Joe resides in Tyrone with his wife, Susan, parents of three grown daughters, Joey Sue, Shonda and Toni. He retired from Chicago Rivet after 38 years of service, and he is a Korean War veteran of the U.S. Army.
Joe’s passion for officiating high school football came from being an athlete at Tyrone High School, before graduating in 1949. At Tyrone, he participated in basketball, track and played football under heralded coaches Steve Jacobs and Merle “Stoney” Stonebraker.
Football in Tyrone in the 1940’s was much like it is today under head coach John Franco – there was a winning tradition.
Joe’s humble beginnings as an official came from one of his high school coaches while he and his wife were expecting their first child in the summer of 1958. In the late 1950’s, Merle Stonebraker was a playground director in Tyrone and had mentioned to his former player that he was in need of a football official. Joe wasn’t quite sure that he was the guy Stoney was looking for.
“He said he needed someone who knew the game,” said Joe. “The next thing I know is my wife agreed with him and wanted me to do it, but I didn’t want to.”
Stoney didn’t take no for an answer and immediately began to shower Joe with rule books to study. The testing day for officials was in September, so there was no time to waste.
“Next thing I know, he brings me out an application,” explained Joe. “It cost $7.50 to send it to Harrisburg back then, so I filled it out and sent it in.”
Joe received a letter back shortly after saying that he had to take a test in Altoona, which now was the only thing keeping him from becoming a football official – he had to pass the test.
“Stoney kept calling me asking if I took my test,” said Joe. “He asked if I passed, and I said I didn’t think I did, because it was too darn hard.”
A week after Joe took his test to become a football official, he was welcoming daughter number one, Joey Sue, who came home from the hospital on September 28, 1958. On that same day, he also received his official’s license.
With a lot already going on with a newborn and his wife, Joe was told by Stoney that he had to begin attending meetings to get into the Altoona chapter for officials. He said he was “interrogated” by some of the old timers before one of the officials shook his hand and welcomed him into the organization.
“That’s how it all started,” stated Joe. “It was Stoney pushing me.”
After two years of officiating and running the first down sticks, Stoney told Joe that he wanted him to start refereeing.
“I told Stoney that I can’t even run the sticks, so how was I going to referee,” said Joe. “He said I was going to referee, and I said okay – he really helped me a lot.”
Joe worked with Stoney for around 10 years before he retired. He was good to Joe and helped bring him along in the officiating world. Back then, officials had to be brought up by a colleague and hand selected, compared to today where there are many high school sports that need many officials to fill in spots.
“The game itself has really changed since I started officiating,” said Joe. “We started with three officials, then four, five and six officials for a game, and now in the playoffs there’s seven.”
He continued, “It was always a running game back then. Maybe you’d throw three or four passes the whole game, but now it’s wide open with the west coast and spread offenses.”
Joe noted how that kids today are much stronger and bigger than when he played. He said that when he was in school, kids never worked out when they played football. Athletes had a few weeks to prepare for each sport they participated in, whether it was football, basketball, wrestling or track season.
“That’s the sport you played at that time, but now it’s just so wide open,” added Joe.
For the first 10 to 15 years of Joe’s officiating tenure, officials were individually contracted by schools most of the time, so he would be working with different people nearly every week. He said that when the officials would gather at the game, no one wanted to be the head referee, so he took on that role often.
From that, Joe ended up with his own crew of local officials which included Greg Hoover of Tyrone, Dave Nicodemus and Rich Slates, both of Altoona. He was the head referee with that group for well over 20 years, officiating many area football games, including Tyrone games.
“I’ve enjoyed the guys I’ve worked with most of all,” said Joe. “You meet good coaches, good athletic directors, good officials and the kids were good too.”
Joe was Hoover’s mentor and broke him in as a referee. Up to just three or four years ago, the duo were still working Tyrone junior high and jayvee football games together.
Throughout 50 years of officiating, Joe recalls numerous moments that he won’t ever forget. He spoke of working long-time Bellefonte Red Raiders head football coach, Bill Luther’s last varsity game in the late 1970’s against Juniata High School. He said that the coach asked him if he could conjure up a situation where he would be able to come out onto the field during the game to argue a call and get his last “hurrah.”
Joe told Luther that if he can, he will, but couldn’t make him any promises. The other officials on his crew were hounding him about what he was going to do to get the coach on the field, but he didn’t come up with anything by the time the first half ended.
“Before the second half I went over to talk to Juniata’s coach and I said that I didn’t want him to get bent out of shape, but Bill Luther wanted to come out on the field for his last hurrah,” explained Joe. “The coach said Bill was a good friend of his and he was okay with it, and we had a laugh.”
Joe still was at a loss on how to get Coach Luther out on the field as the last quarter was approaching.
“We had an off-sides where one kid jumped in and one jumped out,” said Joe. “I knew Bellefonte didn’t do it, but I gave the signal for off-sides on Bellefonte – and there was Bill Luther waving at me over on the sidelines.”
Joe walked to the middle of the field and signaled Luther out onto the field. The people in the stands stood up and gave a loud ovation.
“He came out and said he wanted to thank me for this,” stated Joe. “I said okay coach, and he asked me why I always called him coach, and I said that’s how I knew him when I was wearing the stripes.”
Another instance Joe remembered was a game against Northern Cambria and Cambria Heights, where former Tyrone coach, Steve Magulik, was aiming to secure his first undefeated season as a head coach at Northern Cambria. The year before, Heights knocked off Magulik’s team for its sole loss of the season.
Joe said his crew, particularly Slates, wasn’t looking forward to officiating such an intensely anticipated game, but low and behold the crew was there and the bleachers were packed. People even filled both end zones.
Northern won the game that night, but it wasn’t without some humorous moments. One of the guys running the chains had to be removed before the game because he was drunk, and that was just the beginning.
“The game started and when we were going down one way on the field, the people at the opposite end were out on the field,” said Joe. “When we came down the other way, those people on the other end came out on the field.”
He added, “That was one of the funniest things I’ve seen.”
During one of Joe’s seasons, in a two week span, he was a part of two games that had to be stopped due to bomb threats, where the stadiums were cleared until the threats were secured. One took place in State College, the other in Bellefonte.
“I didn’t know if they were after us or what,” chuckled Joe.
All in all, high school sports has meant so much to Joe, and he will be greatly missed by all football fans, coaches, players and officials. One thing he hopes that officials today will embrace is the “dedication” it takes to be a good and responsible official, because as he says, “money isn’t everything if you’re dedicated.”
No one is an official for the $40 a game that it pays today, but it keeps some officials from sticking it out for a long time. That’s what makes Joe special.
Being an official requires a certain demeanor that Joe undoubtedly possesses. Anyone that knows him will say the same. He tells it how it is.
“I learned from Stoney that when you go over to talk to a coach, you don’t B.S. the coach, you tell him how it is,” explained Joe. “If you blew the call, you tell him you blew the call – don’t make any excuses.”
Joe said that he never met a bad person over his 50 years officiating. He said he’s been doing it for so long that he doesn’t remember some of the people he met anymore.
“What I liked most about it was when I talked to people, they talked good,” stated Joe. “I worked with a lot of good officials, some who aren’t here anymore.”
Joe won’t be far removed from the football field next year. He will still be the timer for the Tyrone Golden Eagle football games.