HIGH ACHIEVERS: Orleans Raftsmen’s Emmett Young expands football interest through officiating

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

As a dedicated and talented young football player, finding a part-time job to fit busy athletic and academic schedules was a difficult challenge for Emmett Young.

Not only are there on-field practices and strength and conditioning sessions, but also he spent the month of July improving certain high school grades with the aim of earning a university football scholarship.

But then along came Gawain Harding, the president of the National Capital Amateur Football Association.

Harding told Young about a new program this season to attract bantam- and midget-aged players (15 to 18 years old) into the field of officiating. The Young Officials Program (a.k.a. Young Zebras) was designed by the NCAFA and the Eastern Ontario Tackle Football Officials Association to recruit new, young talent to bolster a shrinking and vital community of officials because of the COVID-19 pandemic and off-field abuse.

Emmett Young working the sidelines of the Ottawa Redblacks’ home game versus the Edmonton Elks on Aug. 19, 2022. (Photo: Gawain Harding)

When Young, 17, heard about the Young Officials Program, he had that championship look on his face. He could enhance his football experience by thoroughly learning more about the rules of the game as an official and seeing the game from a totally different perspective.

A quick and strong defensive end for the Orleans Raftsmen midget team, Young has been thrilled with the wide-ranging program, which has already seen him be the down judge for a mosquito-level game all the way to being part of the sideline yard-stick crew at the recent CFL game at TD Place between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Edmonton Elks.

“It (officials’ program) has allowed me to learn more about the football rules,” Young said in a phone interview this week. “Learning more about the game is what I want to do.

“I’m playing football most of the time and a part-time job is hard to get. The program also allows me to give back to the community.”

As a way of attracting new recruits into the football officials’ stream, the NCAFA and EOTFOA developed a one-year plan to introduce the young players to the various aspects of football scrutiny. Twenty players registered this year for the debut officials’ program. The NCAFA sweetened the offer to join the officials’ program by covering the cost of a players’ team registration fee (about $400) as well as paying them between $30 and $40 for each game assignment.

Last weekend, Young stepped forward to officiate at four different games in three days. After working the CFL game last Friday, he was responsible for the yard sticks at the Ottawa Sooners’ junior game in the Ontario Football Conference in the afternoon and was the timer for the NCAFA midget game between Nepean Broncos and Gloucester South in the evening. On Sunday, he served as the down judge on the sidelines at a NCAFA mosquito game.

Young, a Level 1 official in the program, regularly checks a website to see what football officiating assignments are available and makes his choices based on his schedule. It’s a perfect part-time job.

Being on the sidelines to officiate a CFL game in front of almost 20,000 fans in a major stadium, was “really exciting” for Young.

“It was like watching the players move in 3D,” Young said with excitement in his voice. “You see the players coming right at you. It was awesome.”

While he was focused on the game as an official and not as a fan, he had to be fully aware of how close the players could be to him and where the ball was at all times. On one occasion, the ball flew by close to his head.

“One of the rules for the guys on the sticks is if the players are coming at you, someone will call D, D, D. You drop the sticks and run away. That happened two to three times, but we were fast enough (to avoid trouble).”

Young, who will enter Grade 12 in the Norman Johnston Secondary Alternative Program next month, hopes to accept three to four assignments a week. The EOTFOA covers the full range of football in Ottawa and the region — CFL, university, junior, high school and NCAFA.

While living in Montreal, Young was introduced to tyke football at the age of seven. But he has played the vast majority of his youth career in the Orleans Bengals’ organization. He is working to improve his academic marks and athletic skills to be recruited by Canadian and American universities.

Young was named to the Ontario U18 Male Tackle Program this year and participated in the 2022 Canada Cup in Kelowna, B.C., placing fourth with the provincial team. In a separate event, he was awarded the Tyler Tsui Greatness Scholarship for exemplifying the “ALL IN” mindset in the game and embodying the core values of Football Ontario.

The scholarship covered the cost of his fees for being part of the Team Ontario program.

The defensive lineman MVP during the 2021 and 2022 Football Academy Showcase Camp at the University of Waterloo, Young was the defensive MVP and the Players’ Choice award winner for the Raftsmen in 2019. While playing for the Bengals’ bantam teams, he was team MVP in 2018 and rookie of the year in 2017.

Like other minor sports organizations in Ottawa, the impact of the pandemic, external verbal abuse and age have reduced the number of football officials needed to cover the games.

“Last year, there wasn’t enough coverage for the tyke games,” Harding said. “The refs are getting older and there was no young blood.”

The NCAFA and the EOTFOA met to discuss the critical issue of declining officials and developed the idea of a Youth Officials’ Program, which has drawn interest from various points throughout Canada and the United States.

“We got 20 players and we’re quite happy with that. They’ve done a couple of games each and everything that’s been said about them has been good.

“Now, we’re talking how to keep the momentum going forward and having it grow. It would be neat to get 20 (young officials) a year. We need 85 officials a year to cover university, junior, high school, the NCAFA and the CFL.

“The proof will be in the pudding and we’ll see how many come back (in 2023). We’re working on coaches’ behaviour and hope the parents get the message these are just kids (officiating). We don’t have the luxury of replays or officials with 25 years of experience.”

Young has been sold on the sport of football for the past decade. By adding officiating to his playbook, he’s enjoying the game even more.

“Football, in general, has had a big impact on my life with friendships and my health,” Young said. “It has really improved my self-esteem and body health.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

1 comment

  1. Fantastic article and credit to Emmett for the hard ride to keep himself fit and ready to play football.

Leave a Reply