As part of the partnership between the National Football League (NFL) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to help increase recognition and participation of high school football officials, the Cleveland Browns' nominated officiating crew was selected as the first ever NFL High School Football Officials 'Crew of the Year.'
"The NFL is honored to recognize the High School Football Officials 'Crew of the Year' representing the Cleveland Browns," said Roman Oben, NFL Vice President of Football Development. "The teamwork and integrity this crew of officials has shown during the 2023 high school football season demonstrates their passion for growing and supporting football at every level. As we continue our partnership with NFHS, we hope to continue recognizing these outstanding high school officials for their work on and off the field."
This first-ever partnership consisted of seven NFL clubs to recognize youth and high school officials across their states in the months of September, October and November. The initiative highlighted crews for their demonstration of objectivity, fairness in rules implementation and commitment as high school officials. An NFL selected panel reviewed the nominations and chose the Browns' nominated officiating crew as the 'Crew of the Year' for the commitment to high school football they displayed throughout the season.
As part of their recognition, the crew is invited to attend the NFL Pro Bowl Games and participate in multiple Pro Bowl events throughout the week.
"Congratulations to Mark Riley, William 'Jake' Smith, Nate Filkiins, John Clay, Trevor Lotz and Kurt Schooley on being named the first ever 'Crew of the Year' by the NFL, representing the Cleveland Browns," said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, NFHS CEO. "This outstanding team of officials has demonstrated not only exceptional officiating skills, but also service to the officiating community and athletic programs for young people. These gentlemen officiate multiple sports, engage in speaking opportunities, lead educational sessions and serve as outstanding role models for officials at any level. The NFHS is so appreciative of their service in so many capacities and so proud of their accomplishments. They are the best in the stripes and we are so grateful to the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for this amazing initiative, which provides us the opportunity to recognize and celebrate interscholastic football officials."
The Browns' 'Crew of the Year' consists of six Ohio officials who demonstrated integrity, resilience and teamwork during the 2023 football season. Referee Mark Riley (Toledo) has spent 30 years officiating high school football. He is a 25-year playoff official, six-time State Final Official Local Association leader and formed a local Officials Association called "Stripes" to recruit more diverse populations into officiating. Umpire William "Jake" Smith (Centerburg) has been a high school football official for 15 years and is a 13-year playoff official and three-time State Final Official Local Association leader. Head linesman Nate Filkins (New Albany) has officiated high school football for 21 years, is an 18-year tournament official and a three-time State Final Official Local Association leader. Line judge John Clay (Gahanna) has been officiating high school football for 34 years. He is a 30-year playoff official, six-time state final official and a State Final Official Local Association leader. Back judge Trevor Lotz (Columbus) completed his sixth season as an official and was awarded the Outstanding New Official Award. Center judge Kurt Schooley (Hilliard) is a 16-year official, 14-year playoff official, four-time state final official and Local Association President.
In continuing the efforts to increase participation and recognition of high school football officials, the Browns have also launched the "Officials Pathway Program" which supports, recognizes and promotes officials at all levels of the game. Through the Browns High School Game of the Week (HSGOTW) program, each official was recognized through the Browns Officials Pathway Program and received branded items.
The Browns understand the importance of recognizing and supporting officials at all levels of the game, and the Officials Pathway Program is just one of the ways we are working to achieve this goal as we encourage more individuals to get more involved in the world of youth & high school football officiating.