By Jonathan Hodgson
Sport Officials Surrendered, “S.O.S”, was founded in April of 2018 by Dan & Alicia DiFolco with a multi-tiered vision to cultivate unity throughout the sport officiating profession, rooted in faith in the gospel of Jesus.
The original concept for S.O.S. was to provide fellowship and networking opportunities for officials of faith, largely through online platforms, much like the various outreach ministries that serve athletes. As S.O.S. was in its infancy, the ministry’s co-founders established a relationship with Pat Fraher. A veteran basketball referee with more than 20 years of service in the NBA, Fraher was also in the planning stages of establishing an officials’ ministry called the Referees Embracing Faith Conference. ‘REF’ Conference would bring together sport officials from across North America for an annual faith-based conference tailored to, and providing a unique opportunity for sport officials to unite around the gospel of Jesus.
Realizing how well the two visions complimented each other, they agreed to merge the two ministries, with REF Conference coming under the Sport Officials Surrendered umbrella as the cornerstone annual event for S.O.S. The overall aim of S.O.S. is to interact with sport officials in person at REF Conference and online through website and social media avenues, with the prayer being that officials are encouraged and equipped to serve God wholeheartedly through their example when they step into the profession of sport officiating.
“Just like athletes, sport officials were created with our own unique passion for the same purpose, and that is to glorify God,” Dan DiFolco said. “It is our mission to unite those who call themselves referees, umpires, judges or what have you, as equal parts in the body of Christ, not only for fellowship, but to serve as a foundation of support, which is critical in our profession,” he said.
Beginning from that core, S.O.S. has assembled a robust advisory and operations team, which includes some of the most accomplished and reputable officials at the highest levels of multiple sports, as well as skilled and experienced individuals to oversee operations.
The advisory team is led by Fraher and NCAA Div. 1 basketball referee Darron George,
along with veteran Major League Baseball crew chief and Calling For Christ co-founder Ted Barrett. Completing the advisory team is collegiate & professional basketball referee Josh Koch, who serves as REF Conference worship leader, and Alika Arisumi, a collegiate basketball & volleyball referee and pastor of Nikao Church in Alamogordo, NM. Advisors contribute messages and content, both written and video, to S.O.S. platforms throughout the year, and deliver messages at REF Conference.
Arisumi also serves on the operations team as graphic design artist, while experienced sports journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Hodgson serves as communications manager, overseeing website and social media content among other tasks. Operations assistant Nick Donaldson assists in a variety of areas.
Co-founders Dan & Alicia DiFolco are actively involved with the entire team in every aspect of the ministry.
A native of Littleton, CO, Dan played college baseball before graduating with a degree in political science from Central Washington University in 2016. He discovered officiating in his post-playing days, and is now a college basketball official. Alicia, a native of Olympia, WA, is currently a graduate teaching assistant while also pursuing her master’s degree in nutrition at Central Washington University. She previously completed her Discipleship Training School from Youth With A Mission “YWAM” following high school.Dan and Alicia married in 2015 and reside in Olympia, WA.
The inaugural REF Conference was hosted by retired NBA referee Steve Javie at Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, TX, in August of 2018. A year later, the second annual REF Conference was hosted by Prasco Laboratories in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, OH. Both events brought together officials from all levels of sport from across North America under one roof for an engaging and life-giving time of worship, teaching and fellowship.
S.O.S. advisors are joined by guest speakers at REF Conference, which in 2018 included
retired NBA referees Javie and Ed Rush, and retired NCAA basketball head coach Homer Drew in 2018, followed by a 2019 lineup that included NFL chaplain LaMorris Crawford, NCAA men’s basketball coordinator of officials J.D. Collins, and NCAA Div. 1 basketball referee Nate Harris.
It is a goal of S.O.S. to have as many different sports as possible represented through our team, REF Conference, and online content, so that every official can connect with or at minimum, hear from a representative at the highest level of their own sport.
In October of 2019, S.O.S. entered into an exciting partnership with Honig’s to launch a new phase of the ministry with The Great Recruitment geared by Honig’s. The campaign is geared towards helping to end the industry-wide staffing shortage in sport officiating, by having active sport officials speak with their churches about spreading awareness for The Great Recruitment, and then serving as the ‘recruiter’ and direct contact for any potential recruit who shows interest. Honig’s is offering a discount code for a future online purchase to all recruiters who sign up for the Great Recruitment, as well as for all of their new recruits.
From S.O.S vision:
S.O.S believes the key to succeeding in Christ's mission for our lives is coming together as one body. We believe Jesus needed the twelve disciples not because He actually needed them, but because He knew that He would be leaving this earth, and needed a group to continue on the mission.
We need community for accountability, encouragement, fellowship, and support. The only people who know exactly what the life of a sport official is like is a fellow sport official.
God designed each of us for community, and just as this is true in our personal journey with God, S.O.S believes this is also true in ministry.
S.O.S was and is blessed unite with strategic, like-minded partners whose aim is to serve God and grow His Kingdom through the unique mission fields that God has placed us in. They include, but are not limited to, REF LIFE, the day-one partner of S.O.S. and the official clothing brand of REF Conference, as Honig’s, who has partnered with S.O.S. to gear The Great Recruitment campaign.
S.O.S is always enthusiastic to speak with any interested parties about partnership possibilities, whether it be individuals, officiating organizations, academies or camps, sports ministries or any other like-minded faith or sports groups with a compatible vision.
S.O.S online platforms --
Email newsletter: firstname.lastname@example.org
S.O.S. vision & beliefs, and team bios can be found on the website, which also contains pertinent information on the ministry, such as further information on REF Conference and The Great Recruitment.
Other services that S.O.S. provides through our website includes an officiating camp directory, faith and officiating resources, and a prayer request submission page.
“Our mission is to unite the body of Christ by encouraging fellowship and a foundation of faith within the officiating profession. Anywhere officials are, we want to be there and be available to them. If we as the body of Christ are imitating Jesus, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.” -Dan DiFolco.