Like a lot of athletes at the lower levels, Sam Burdt of Cedar Rapids has aspirations to reach the big leagues.
But, at 51 years old, he’s also a little more realistic than a teenager dreaming of playing in the NBA.
“I wouldn’t mind getting a shot at some of those games,” Burdt said Sunday.
Burdt isn’t dreaming of playing in a Super Bowl, taking cuts at Wrigley Field or swinging his clubs in Augusta, Ga. His game these days is officiating and he would love to move up to, say, NCAA Division II or the FCS or the Big Ten. Or the NFL.
“At some point, it would be cool to get a shot,” he said, two days after working the NCAA Division III national championship football game in Shenandoah, Texas.
Burdt has reached the top of Division III, so you can’t blame him for thinking bigger. But, he also said, “I’m just happy where I’m at.”
Burdt was part of an American Rivers Conference crew that worked the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Friday, a game won by Mary Hardin-Baylor, 24-16, over defending champion Mount Union.
He worked as the side judge and was joined by referee Kirk Johnson of Boone, umpire Eric Kennedy and head line judge Art Ousley Jr. of Des Moines, line judge Jeff Trost of Nashua, field judge Mike Hanna of Indianola, and back judge Ross Hannam of Cedar Falls.
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Larry Walderbach of Cedar Rapids, the coordinator of officials for the A-R-C and a member of this crew in 2007 when it worked the national championship, also made the trip.
Walderbach, who retired after a 44-year career when his “knees were bad and the hips hurt me,” said it's tough to climb that ladder, just like an athlete who wants to turn pro.
“The funnel gets really tight,” he said.
Burdt wasn’t part of this crew during the regular season, but when its side judge couldn’t make the trip, Burdt got the call.
“I ended up having a decent season,” he said.
A 1985 graduate of Kennedy High School who played basketball and baseball for the Cougars, Burdt didn’t start officiating until 2011, when he stopped coaching his children and “didn’t have anything to do anymore.”
Like all officials, he started with middle school games, worked his way up to high school and eventually got a shot at the Division III ranks.
And now, just seven years after that start, he’s worked a national championship game.
“It was a great college football experience,” Burdt said.
And a little “nerve-wracking” at times. But once the whistle blew, it was football.
“... that’s when the whole experience seemed normal,” Burdt said.
The Iowa crew did well.
“They said ‘you guys nailed it,’” Burdt said.
“They went out and worked a fantastic game,” Walderbach said.
And, in the end, that’s all officials really care about — at any level.
“I’m always just trying to get better,” he said.
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