Calling it an honor

Derrick Isley of Ramseur stands over the football during a timeout in the Class 2-A state championship game between Shelby and Wallace-Rose Hill on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Isley said working the game was one of his officiating highlights. (PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL)

RALEIGH — Derrick Isley had a grand experience at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s football championships and it didn’t even matter who won.

Isley, a Ramseur man, held an officiating assignment for the Class 2-A final between Shelby and Wallace-Rose Hill in Raleigh.

“There’s only a few who get this shot,” Isley said. “I’m very honored with this because I never saw it coming.”

Isley completed his 21st year of officiating. This was the first time it concluded in the state championships.

“That’s 21 years being on the field doing what I love,” he said.

He’s an umpire, meaning he lines up on the defensive side of the ball, usually near the linebackers. That’s often an area where a game official might encounter some contact as it’s a busy part of the field.

But that’s where Isley, 47, said he’s most comfortable.

“I’ve been blessed to have some quick feet,” he said. “I get in there and I just roll with the punches.”

Isley is a 1993 Eastern Randolph graduate. He began officiating in area recreation leagues and worked his way up to the semi-professional level.

He has found his niche at the high school levels. During the regular season, he works throughout the region, often calling games in Alamance, Guilford and Forsyth counties.

“What has made me have a longer career is it makes you have tougher skin,” Isley said, noting verbal jabs often directed toward officials. “I’m just going to call my game and stay focused.”

With the NCHSAA reducing its football classifications back to four instead of eight that had been used for more than a decade, it limited the number of available assignments for the championship weekend.

Isley found out at the beginning of the postseason that he had been selected for one of the spots. The crew for the Class 2-A title game worked together in the Class 4-A West Regional final between Chambers and Hough.

“I think the best part of the experience was meeting the other guys,” Isley said.

He already knew line judge Keith Williams, who had worked the Mount Tabor-Greensboro Page game with him in September.

Isley had logged numerous postseason assignments in previous years. In the reconfigured football season for the 2020-21 school year, he also worked a regional final in the spring.

Yet there was some game-week anxiety prior to the state finals. Just days before the game, reports came out that the Wallace-Rose Hill team was dealing with COVID issues.

“We were all on pins and needles,” Isley said as uncertainty loomed regarding the game.

But it was contested as scheduled at North Carolina State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.

There was other good fortune as well. The rain held off – though precipitation was a big factor for the Class 4-A title game later Saturday night. It was windy earlier in the day, even on the field.

“It felt nice outside,” Isley said.

Shelby won the game, 55-34. Wallace-Rose Hill was reportedly without at least five starters, stemming from illnesses or injuries.

It was a fast-paced game, something that Isley said he expected and embraced. He referred to it as a clean game.

“It was like a track meeting starting out,” he said. “Most of the year I’ve had a bunch of track meets.

By the time Isley returned home after midnight, there was still some game-day adrenalin.

“It took me a little bit to wind down,” he said.

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