NASO board member Dana Pappas leads high school officiating in New Mexico as the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) commissioner of officials. She’s managed officials in the New Mexico Officials Association (NMOA) since 1997.
Pappas considers members of the group as part of her “family” and the pandemic caused havoc in trying to keep high school officials in New Mexico together.
Through virtual meetings, TikTok videos, newsletters and most recently a newly added Diversity and Inclusion Panel, Pappas and her assistant, Nate Acosta, have been trying to engage current officials and approach recruiting new officials with out-of-the-box ideas. Pappas said she hopes that if successful, other states will try fresh ideas to engage a shrinking demographic — young officials.
COVID-19 halted officiating for a period of time, but with the uptick in virtual meetings across the country, NMOA football officials Dennis Barela and Ken Adent approached Pappas about having a series of calls hosted online. Hector Martinez kicked things off on the baseball side and away they went.
“When COVID hit, it was actually officials of mine in football and baseball who started having them,” Pappas said. “I hopped on and started watching what two of our football officials and one of our baseball umpires were doing and was like, ‘Wait a minute. Why aren’t we doing this statewide?’”
Pappas, Acosta and officiating leaders in the NMOA worked to facilitate calls statewide.
“We’ve had 153 webinars that our office has facilitated,” Pappas said. “All of them are in the evenings and weekends because of officials having real jobs. We’ve been very busy.”
With the effort being put into these meeting calls, one might question if the initiative was worth it. Pappas pointed to a statistic that volleyball officials average an attendance rate of 90 percent once the NMOA convened its regular series of meetings for the year. That rate has never been attained in a live-group setting, Pappas said.
And with New Mexico being geographically spread out, with some officials driving two hours to a meeting, Pappas said she was optimistic that virtual meetings could become part of regular training — doing a combination of virtual and in-person meetings.
Pappas credits Acosta with developing a new weekly series of short videos that are posted to social media website TikTok. The video-sharing social networking site allows users to share short-form videos of up to 60 seconds. Acosta has taken these videos and distributed them to the NMOA membership.
“My assistant, Nate Acosta, is just incredible with technology and if you’ve watched any of our clinic stuff, he does all these intro videos that are amazing and he’s just a techie,” Pappas said. “A few months ago, he was like ‘We really to engage with that next generation’ and I was like ‘Alright, how do we do that?’ He goes ‘We should start making TikTok videos.’”
Pappas said she wasn’t familiar with TikTok and was hesitant at first but she let Acosta run with it. The videos have received hundreds of views on the TikTok platform under the username @nmofficials. The videos also feature NASO Say Yes to Officiating campaign through #SayYesToOfficiating — a hashtag used to spread a message on social media.
While most of the videos are lighthearted and comical in nature — varying from Pappas and Acosta dancing to music in officiating uniforms to flipping through a music playlist in the car on a “road trip” — a recent video also memorialized the recent loss of several NMOA members.
“If nothing else, I think it’s helped to humanize our office,” Pappas said. “I think that sometimes people feel like, ‘Oh, you know the state association, they’re these nameless people.’ We have a sense of humor. We enjoy working for officials. But it also talks about the importance of the officiating family.”
Acosta also developed a series of officiating rules to live by that were distributed in a recent NMOA newsletter. Some of the rules include traditional methods like not needing to have the “last word” in a disagreement with a coach to Rule #9: “Be like a duck — remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.”
Finally, Pappas initiated a new NMOA panel to focus on diversity and inclusion. While it’s a newer effort, she believes other states can benefit from adopting similar panels to address problems officials are facing.