Longtime Southwest Wyoming sports official honored by WHSAA

Little League Umpire Eric Quinney and his son Bryson recently worked a game together for the first time this summer. Eric was named the 2023 Football Official of the Year, presented by the WHSAA and WSOA. (COURTESY PHOTO)

A fixture on the baseball fields, basketball courts and football fields of Southwest Wyoming for nearly two decades was honored last weekend by the Wyoming High School Activities Association for his hard work and dedication on the gridiron.

Eric Quinney – Uinta County Fire and Ambulance Chief Administrative Officer – was named the 2023 Football Official of the Year at last weekend’s 39th Annual Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame Banquet in Casper, presented by the Wyoming High School Activities Association and the Wyoming Sports Officials Association.

“I’m going into my 18th year of doing this, so to be recognized like that is definitely humbling,” Quinney said. “It’s definitely an honor, for sure.”

“I started basketball and football at the same time – I’ve been doing baseball a little bit longer than that,” Quinney explained. “We just finished our third year of high school softball, and I’ve been involved with that, as well. It keeps me busy all year round.”

Quinney began umpiring baseball as a teenager growing up in California, though he didn’t start officiating football until he settled in Wyoming.

“I became a junior umpire at 16, and kinda got the bug,” he said. “When I first moved to Wyoming, I worked for the Highway Patrol, so it was difficult to get involved in officiating because of my shift work. But when I went to the fire department, my schedule was a little bit better. A guy from Lyman asked if I was interested in hopping on their football crew, and the rest is history. Been going full speed ever since.”

Quinney said he enjoys watching young athletes grow from the middle school ranks into high school and beyond, seeing them revel in their successes and learn from their failures.

“For me, the most gratifying part is just being involved in the game – interacting with the kids and the coaches,” Quinney explained. “Without officials, there are no games happening, so just being able to provide a service that not a lot of people are willing to do so that the kids can have the same experience that I had as a kid is probably what I enjoy the most. Seeing the kids from middle school, up through high school and afterwards, seeing them succeed and all the life lessons those things teach is very special.”

“One of the biggest thrills is when I get graduation announcements, wedding announcements from student athletes all over Southwest Wyoming,” he added. “It’s cool, because you forge these relationships with these kids as you see them compete and grow up – I root for them, not only to succeed during the games, but in life. It’s definitely gratifying to be involved with.”

The lack of qualified officials at the youth and high school level has become a disturbing trend nationwide, and Quinney said the reason is simple, as is the solution.

“The reason there is a shortage of officials in all sports is because of the intensity, the emotions of sports,” Quinney said. “That comes out at times in very ugly ways. In the end, it’s just a game, but people do get invested at a very high level that can come out in the form of personal attacks towards officials. Are we, as officials, perfect? Heavens, no. Are we trying our best? Yes. But the verbal attacks – I think we’re at a place in society now where people think it’s OK to say whatever you want in the heat of the moment, and feel like it doesn’t affect anyone. But sometimes, it does. And that’s why there aren’t a lot of people willing to officiate – why would anyone want to go out and subject themselves to that? If you look at the officials in a lot of different sports, it’s not a young population – it’s an aging population. We’re trying to recruit younger officials, and we need help from the fans by allowing young officials to make mistakes, and learn, instead of attacking them and running them off in year one and year two. In the end. You’re there for the kids, and that’s what’s most important.”

Quinney has had many memorable moments during a career that has spanned nearly two decades, and he looks forward to many more.

“I’ve done several football state championships, several basketball state championships, I’ve been to the state tournament in softball all three years and obviously, last year, when I went to the Little League Western Region Tournament and did games on ESPN,” Quinney said. “Being able to officiate at the highest level in the sports that I do has been extremely gratifying. Add in the successes of the kids – the last-second shots, the last-minute scores – it’s just exciting. I average 9,000 miles a year with my officiating, and travel all around the state. I enjoy working with all of my fellow officials and crew members. Working baseball with my son Bryson this summer – who’s three years out of a heart transplant – has also been special. It’s been a great experience.”