For the past 59 years, Steve Narracci has spent his falls involved in officiating high school football in some capacity: first as a linesman, then as a head official and then, for the past 17 years, as the commissioner of the New Haven Football Officials Association (NHFOA).
After this one last round of championship finals on Saturday, Narracci will finally retire, at age 86. A long, dedicated career that also included being a head coach and athletic director at the high school level comes to a close Saturday.
I decided at the beginning of the season this would be it,” said Narracci, a North Haven resident. “I felt it was the right time. It has to end some time. I said to my wife, ‘I’d like to get 60 (years).’ She said, ‘Why, it’s only a number. So I felt this was the time. I’m ready to give it to someone.”
That someone is Bill Riccio, a West Haven resident, who will be officiating his sixth championship final Saturday, the Class M game between Killingly and Barlow This completes 44 seasons for the 64-year-old Riccio.
“Steve was a well-respected official on the field,” Riccio said “When he was asked (to become commissioner), we wanted someone respected by the coaches and the athletic directors, being a former AD and basketball coach, we thought he fit the bill, and he did for 17 years and did a wonderful job.”
Narracci coached boys basketball at East Haven, then was athletic director at the school, retiring in 1991. But he is more well known for being an official for 42 years, also working six state championship finals, including one with Riccio, the 1988 Class MM game when Bristol Eastern beat South Windsor.
Narracci’s last state final came in 2000, when Bloomfield, then coached by Jack Cochran, defeated New Canaan, coached by Lou Marinelli, now the state’s all time winningest coach.
“When I walked off the field, I still felt good. It was an opportunity to do something else,” Narracci said. “Considering, it was only one game for each class back then it (working a state final) was a big deal. Now there are eight games. A lot of guys can work multiple (playoff) games. Back then, if you didn’t work a final, you didn’t work at all.”
Not only does the commissioner assign officials for varsity games, but also at the JV, freshman, middle school and youth football level. What was once done with pen and paper is now done on an arbiter system on the computer, albeit easier, but not without hiccups.
“You are constantly on the phone. It is constantly ringing, believe me,” Narracci said. “Things happen, someone gets hurt or sick, or has a family problem, you have to go in and replace them. It’s 24-7.”
Part of the job as commissioner is also going out each Friday night and evaluate his officials.
“I think we have the best board in the state,” Narracci said. “Are we perfect? No, but we try to be. You try your best to be perfect.”
Riccio said this promotion was “never on his radar” at all. He was more than happy to remain in the field and be the state interpreter on rules, which he likely will continue to do.. But many of the membership wanted him to replace Narracci.
That election occurred in November, and Riccio was then approved by the executive board
“Prior to a year ago July, if you would have told me I’d be elected commissioner, I would have laughed at you,” Riccio said. “I enjoy what I do like coaches’ clinics and I think I do that pretty well and was happy doing it. This came about and enough people said ‘I have to take the job.”
Riccio’s last regular-season game was the Elm City Bowl on Thanksgiving, when Wilbur Cross rallied to beat Hillhouse. “It was kind of an out-of-body experience. I don’t know how many games I’ve done on the high school level (Riccio also refereed on the college level), it’s been a part of my life since I was 20 years old.”
Riccio has also been one of those holdouts: he currently doesn’t own a cell phone. But he realizes he needs to get one once the transition process becomes official on Jan. 1.
“Billy is very knowledgeable. He’s a good official and he will do a good job (as commissioner),” Narracci said.
As far as next fall, what will Narracci do with himself? Take a vacation with Jerri, his wife of 56 years, possibly?
“I don’t know what I’ll do in the fall, no idea,” he said. “She (his wife) deserves a medal. She gave up an awful lot for me to do this job 24-7, during vacations, she went along with it.”