Ohio Valley Unsung Hero: Hissom giving back through officiating, other avenues

BARNESVILLE — Upon graduating from Barnesville High School in 1995, Matt Hissom received a check.

It was a pay it forward, if you will.

Inside a card, was an allowance for $35 made out, not to him, but to the Ohio High School Athletic Association to be used for enrollment in a basketball officiating class.

The check came from Roger Sowers, a veteran official and friend of Matt’s dad, Joe, too, a longtime official.

Matt Hissom had long harbored ideas about joining his father in the officiating ranks, but had debated on when to do so. The gift prompted him to make his decision a little sooner than expected. But it’s one, he said, he’s glad he made.

”Pretty much the rest is history, I guess,” Hissom said with a laugh.

Hissom started his officiating career at age 18 and has since excelled at that job, as well as that as a teacher, coach and sports volunteer at his alma mater. Not many have the opportunity to return to their former high school to work, so Hissom considers himself blessed.

”It makes teaching a lot easier,” he said. ”I know a lot of the kids and their families. I may have went to school with them. I’m at the age now that I know a lot of their parents because most are the same age as me.”

Hissom works at Barnesville High School as an engineering teacher as part of Project Lead the Way, a national initiative that involves cool things like 3-D printers and robotics. He goes to Bridgeville, Pa. in the summer to receive training on the always changing facets of the industry and brings those updates back to his students in the fall.

Also when fall rolls around, Hissom can be found in the press box at home Shamrock football games serving as a jack-of-all-trades of sorts.

”When I first got hired at Barnesville 12 years ago, (athletic director) Mark (Cook) told me the spotter couldn’t be there and asked me to spot and help (public address voice) Joe Bradfield. I said, ‘What do I have to do?”’

Hissom liked the job and stayed on helping. Later, as the upgrades continued to the facility, Hissom started playing music at the games.

”I started downloading music, buying music and putting it on a laptop and creating playlists,” he said. ”I also tried not interfering the marching band when they played.

”I just do a little bit everything … provide another set of eyes and ears.”

When football season ends, Hissom trades his disc jockey duties in for his officiating one. This season will be Hissom’s 16th toiling the courts of the Ohio Valley. He has previously coached, but now focuses on officiating.

”I played basketball and would go watch my dad when he had a big game,” Hissom recalled. ”I tried to pick up on things he did and tried to pick up on the nuances of being an official.

”I watched a lot of him and got to be friends with a lot of his officiating partners.”

Hissom worked his way up the ladder when he began his officiating career and eventually reached the pinnacle — the Ohio state championships. He’s worked the last five state tournaments, alternating boys’ and girls’ games each year.

”To ref at ‘The Schott’ is always an honor,” he said. ”It’s the mecca of where we live. To ref on that floor is quite an honor. When you’re a high school official working the state tournament is the ultimate goal. To get there, and get there five times, that’s the ultimate sense of accomplishment.”

Hissom had the ultimate sense of accomplishment two years ago when he worked the Division III final between Versailles and Ottawa-Glandorf with his dad.

”It was pretty neat,” Hissom remembered. ”To be there with your dad makes it even more special.”

The Hissoms work regular-season together all the time and still critique each other’s work in hopes of making each other better.

”We still talk about calls to this day,even after he’s reffed some 30 years or so,” Hissom said. ”We’re on a crew and we still have great conversations on the way home.

”Donnie Giffin is our third partner and if there’s an hour ride home we’ll still talk about plays. We don’t always agree with each other because, really, it’s a game of angles. If I’m in a corner of a gym and you’re in another corner, we’re looking at (at play) at a different angle.

”We really have constructive conversations.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1