Assistant athletic director Josh Thurow steps in as one of the NFL’s replacement officials
When students see Josh Thurow, Minnehaha’s assistant athletic director, it’s usually behind his desk, joking with students who are lingering in the hallway or coaching girls’ basketball and boys’ baseball, not on national television.
This year, though, they have had that opportunity.
Due to a labor dispute, replacement officials were called in to serve as temporary replacements. Thurow, along with around 120 others took the place of the refs, becoming “replacement refs”, officiating four preseason games and three regular season games.
Before making it to the big leagues, Thurow’s reffing career began humbly in college. While working at a basketball game, wiping sweat off the court floor, he met with a ref who told him how to get into the business. In order to support his wife and daughter, Megan, he began reffing football.
He eventually worked his way into D2 and D3 college reffing, where he stayed for about nine years.
One of the major differences between the NFL and high school and college level football is several variation on rules. In order to prepare for the change, Thurow was flown to both Dallas and Atlanta to take part in two or three days worth of training sessions.
Sessions included studying the NFL rules, reviewing video footage and agility and speed testing. He was also able to take part in the Minnesota Vikings training camp in order to prepare the experience on the field.
The training and the actual reffing itself kept Thurow away from his family.
“He spent about three days a week away from home,” said sophomore daughter Megan. “I missed him a ton when he was gone, but it’s cool that my dad was in the NFL. And I could watch him on TV.”
“At each level the size and the speed and the talent gets a little bit better,” said Thurow, commenting on the differences between the three playing fields. “The NFL was an incredible difference in the talent and the size and speed- especially the size of the players. They’re just giants!”
Replacement referees have undergone much scrutiny, finding themselves as the butt of many a joke, ranging from late night talk shows to the wildly popular replacement ref memes to parodies of the pop songs “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen and “Whistle” by Flo Rida.
The media has been ruthless, attacking their mistakes and completely overlooking their accomplishments.
Thurow’s crew, who was ranked as the number one crew in the preseason by the NFL, was selected to ref the season opener of the regular season with the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.
“I was walking on the field that night and I literally told my wife, ‘I feel like the Christians who got led to the lions. They’re going to tear us apart,’” said Thurow. “When I make a call, 50 percent of the people will agree with me, while that other 50 percent are going to disagree. The media narrative can twist it to something negative, easily questioning calls.”
Recently, the quality and capability of the replacements has been called into question by both fans and officials alike.
After an infamous call made in a game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, which ended up costing the Packers the game, the labor dispute was brought to a close. The original refs are back on the job.
“I felt my crew that I worked with every week did a really good job. Our games went smoothly,” said Thurow. “I think some other crews had the same experience. Unfortunately, there were some mistakes made by replacement officials, which isn’t to be completely unexpected, because the lights are shining pretty bright on people who haven’t been in that situation before. All those mistakes were really highlighted-it probably appeared worse that what it really was, in its entirety.”
The size of the stage hasn’t gone to his head, though.
“Before every game, I would go out and pray,” said Thurow. “I was very thankful to be where I was, but the nerves get to you just a bit when there’s 80,000 people screaming at you. So I’d go out and pray for wisdom, and strength and just the boldness to be out there and do the job well.”
While traveling to different cities to ref, Thurow brought his kids with him. Megan, a sophomore at Minnehaha was taken to Chicago to watch a game.
“It was really cool to see him ref for players I actually knew,” said Thurow. “I never really cared when he was reffing for people I didn’t know.”
Photos of Thurow officiating a game circulated on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, with students excitedly proclaiming their former gym teacher to be a ref for the National Football League.
“My varsity baseball coach is reffing in the opening NFL game! This is sweet!” tweeted junior Luke Erickson.
“This is why Minnehaha’s teachers are better than other schools: Because they’re also NFL refs,” senior Elliot Fink posted on Facebook, along with a picture of Thurow at the Ravens game.
“Everyone has been very supportive,” said Thurow. “People were pretty proud of me and happy that I got this opportunity.”
As for the future, Thurow remains optimistic.
“Nobody’s made any promises to me, but I did well in my time there,” said Thurow. “I did a good job and it was recognized by the people who make those decisions. Hopefully, there will be a future.”