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REF Conference in review

By Jonathan Hodgson

Sport Officials Surrendered (S.O.S.) hosted the second annual Referees Embracing Faith “REF” Conference on August 17, in Mason, OH, a neighboring community of Cincinnati.

Much like the inaugural event which took place in Dallas in 2018, the 2019 conference brought together an impressive gathering of individuals from sports officiating and ministry, to lead attendees in a day of Christ-centered teaching and fellowship.

Veteran officials, NBA referee Pat Fraher and NCAA Div. 1 basketball referee Darron George, both of whom are members of the S.O.S. advisory team, served as emcees for the one-day event, tying together the messages delivered by guest speakers, which focused on the theme ‘Salvation: A gift and a call.’ The lineup of speakers featured LaMorris Crawford, J.D. Collins, Nate Harris, Alika Arisumi, and Ted Barrett.

Jeff Arington, managing partner of Prasco Laboratories, the host of this year’s event, also attended and began the morning session with a welcoming address. He is also part of the Arington Foundation, which aims to spread the gospel of Jesus through involvement in media, sport and education.

The focus for this year’s event built upon the 2018 conference, which examined the greatest commandment, and applying it within the officiating culture. Speakers at that event included retired NBA referees Steve Javie and Ed Rush Sr., as well as retired NCAA Div. 1 head coach Homer Drew.

Arisumi, a basketball and volleyball official, and pastor of Nikao Church in Alamogordo, NM, led off the teaching with a message that redefined the conventional application of the commonly used acronym “YOLO”. Instead of saying ‘you only live once’ to excuse wrong behavior and decisions, Arisumi told those in attendance to use that same thought to live a life pleasing to God with no regrets. He illustrated his point with an equation, “clear convictions plus complete commitment equals no regrets.”

S.O.S. partnered with Trafficking Hope for the conference cause; “Blow the whistle on sex trafficking.” A portion of proceeds from the conference was given to Trafficking Hope, who’s work brings awareness and education to communities regarding domestic human trafficking, while also providing services to trafficked victims. Proceeds came from admission, S.O.S. merchandise sales, whistles donated by Fox40, and donations.

NCAA Division 1 basketball referee Nate Harris delivered a message based on his own personal testimony, and drew on the words of Matthew 25:40 to convey that the impact we have must be done on a foundation of unconditional love for God and the people we encounter.

S.O.S. announced at REF Conference, a partnership with Honig’s for The Great Recruitment campaign. The Great Recruitment is an effort to lock arms with the officiating community to help address the critical officiating staffing shortage faced nationwide across all sports.

The Great Recruitment webpage can be found on the S.O.S. website. By completing the invitation form, you will receive a ‘letter to the church’ and a flyer, as well as the option to subscribe to Honig’s Monthly Newsletter and receive a discount coupon. The letter and flyer can then be presented to your local church or ministry to spread awareness of the need and facilitate the opportunity to register as a sport official or learn more. For more on the Great Recruitment, visit S.O.S. online.

Veteran Major League Baseball umpire Ted Barrett joined the conference via video while on the road preparing to work a game, encouraging officials to put on the full armor of God each day in order to stand firm in their faith,

After lunch was served by Chick-fil-A, LaMorris Crawford, team chaplain for the Cincinnati Bengals gave an impassioned plea on the importance of being completely committed to following Jesus, regardless of how it may look to others.

“If you want salvation, you can’t care what others think about you,” Crawford said. “There are times when you are going to look silly to others while following Jesus, and that’s okay because it’s about you and Him,” he said.

He also reminded the sport officials in attendance just how much of a unique opportunity their job presents them to make an impact.

“The most influential people in the world are athletes; everybody has a favourite team or player,” Crawford began. “You, as an official, are in a unique space to be in the circle with the most influential people in the world,” he said.

Also joining in the conference were presenters from Ignition Athletic Performance Group, and Celebrate Recovery. Worship was led in the morning and throughout the day by Joshua Koch Music.

J.D. Collins, the national coordinator of NCAA men’s basketball officiating closed the conference and spoke about walking in humility as is written in Philippians 2:3-4, as well as the importance of combining good intentions with action.

S.O.S. co-founder Dan DiFolco offered the following comments, “we are blown away by God’s goodness revealed at our second annual Referees Embracing Faith Conference. Not only the tremendous power with which He spoke through each speaker, but the life changing fellowship that we all experienced,” he said, adding, “we want to be a place where brothers and sisters can come to be refueled; a place where the Holy Spirit can fill their cup with living water and prepare us for another season.”

DiFolco said that through REF Conference, S.O.S. aims to walk out the words of Acts 13:47, which reads: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring Salvation to the ends of the earth.”

S.O.S. would like to thank each and every individual who attended this year’s REF Conference, as well as everybody who served to make this event happen.

“REF Conference 2019 allowed us the chance to rally together and prepare to go back onto the court or field, and be a small experience of Jesus for those we encounter,” DiFolco said. “More than 60 sport officials from all over the country left that day filled and refreshed ready to overflow the love of Jesus, ready to be a miracle in somebody else’s life, and to that we say hallelujah and amen,” he said.

You can visit and learn more about S.O.S. at our website, and follow us on our social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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