Williamstown grad to serve as official in Arena Bowl

While Parkersburg Catholic graduate Luke Black, a defensive end for Cleveland, will attempt to help lead the Gladiators to an ArenaBowl XXVII title starting at 8 p.m. today at Quicken Loans Arena against two-time defending champion Arizona, Williamstown High School graduate Craig Griffith will be in a little different position.

That’s because the 1975 WHS graduate, who earned his degree in business management from West Liberty, will be on the field officiating as a back judge. It will mark his first appearance in the Arena Football League’s championship game.

“I’ve worked at almost every level you can think of (in football) except the NFL,” said Griffith, who was honored on Thursday night in Cleveland as the AFL’s Official of the Year.

Griffith, who has officiated basketball on every level from Division I to NAIA, said he was a little shocked when his named was called at a banquet and he had to go accept the award and give a little speech.

“All the team owners, the players, everybody throughout the league was there and they opened it up to the fans. There were a few thousand people there,” Griffith explained. “I was walking up and they were all clapping. After I got my award, I had to say something.

“I told them we have to start all over because you guys have to boo and yell at me so I feel like I’m in a familiar place. I’m not used to you guys cheering for me and that drew a big applause. It was exciting.”

From doing numerous collegiate bowl games to now, Griffith said he developed his passion for officiating after taking a class at West Liberty, where he served as an assistant women’s basketball coach during his final two years as a Hilltopper.

“I started in like 1978 when I took a physical education class in basketball officiating and it just took off from there,” he said, noting he left Division I football about five years ago after having worked six consecutive bowl games.

“The highest level (of football) I have done was the Arena Football League and the United Football League. Yes, I wanted to go there (to the NFL), but I just never got the opportunity.”

One opportunity Griffith never will forget was the time when he earned the chance to work his first Division I college gridiron game, which took place at the home of the RedHawks from Miami University (Ohio) when tailback Travis Prentice was rumbling for what was then an NCAA career record 73 touchdowns that was later broken by current Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball when he was at Wisconsin.

“We were on the grass field at Miami and I went to cut as I was back-peddling,” Griffith recalled. “Travis Prentice caught a pass and was running right at me. I went to cut and I tore up a divot in the turf and tore my ligaments out of my right ankle.

“I worked a lot of years (to get to Division I) and I didn’t make it through the first quarter of my first Division I game. I came back from it, but they took me out on a stretcher.”

Griffith, who said he will be working Mountain East Conference football games this year, keeps busy with his SCG Logistics business in North Canton, where he moves freight for customers across the country. He and his son Michael, who is 24, also own Akron Canton On Deck Academy, which is an indoor training facility.

This year, Michael was the youngest official in the AFL and he spent Friday night doing Navy’s Division I scrimmage and will make his D-I officiating debut next Saturday when North Carolina Central invades East Carolina.

The elder Griffith is hoping one day his son can advance to the NFL ranks, but for now, all Craig Griffith is worried about is getting through what is expected to be a sold out Quicken Loans Arena for the AFL championship.

“I’ve worked several bowl games, a few national championships in various levels of NCAA and NAIA basketball and it will be another game, but it will be crazy,” he said. “It’s pretty pressure packed, but I’m looking forward to the game.”