Conor Clougherty works for Honig’s, a company that specializes in uniforms for umps, refs, and other sports officials. He’s also a big Uni Watch fan, so we recently spent some time going over some of the finer points of officiating attire. Read and learn:
Uni Watch: What is your job there at Honig’s and how long have you worked there?
Conor Clougherty: I graduated from North Carolina State in December of 2005. My parents had started this distributorship out of Raleigh about six years ago…
UW: For all sporting goods, or just for officials?
CC: Strictly for officials — baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, wrestling, soccer. Any sports that have officials, we sell their uniforms.
UW: So this distributorship that your parents run — that’s not Honig’s, right?
CC: Right. Honig’s was started by a gentleman named Dick Honig. He’s out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was a Big 10 football official, and also officiated collegiate basketball. He knew my father, who was an NCAA basketball official too…
UW: Ah, so this is in your blood.
CC: Yes. My brother is a basketball official for the SEC, Big East, Conference USA. And now my father is a supervisor of officials for the ACC. So we’ve kinda been in the profession.
UW: What’s it like having a ref for a dad? Was he really strict?
CC: Nah, it wasn’t like that. It was really cool, because I got to see him on TV, and he took me to a bunch of games. For a few years I got to be a ballboy for the ACC tournament — one of those kids who wipes up the sweat. It was a great experience.
UW: So he didn’t, like, bring a whistle to the dinner table.
CC: No, and he didn’t make me do push-ups or anything like that.
UW: What about you? Have you officiated?
CC: Yes. When I graduated from NC State, I started immediately with high school football. This fall will be my third season.
UW: Which position are you?
CC: Back judge. I’m the guy in the way back, making the pass interference calls.
UW: Now at Honig’s, you do sales, right?
CC: Yes. See, Dick Honig and my dad knew each other, and I guess his sales were a little slow in the mid-Atlantic region, and so that’s how my father got started with this distributorship, to help out Dick Honig. So customers call, place orders. If you were going to, say, officiate basketball, you’d give us a call, or place an order from our catalog, and we’d outfit you with your stripes. We also have some walk-in business, from local guys.
UW: So you’re dealing directly with officials, not with retailers.
CC: Right. This office is just three people — my mom, my brother, and me.
UW: Are there lots of other companies that specialize in officials’ attire?
CC: Yeah, a few. You might have heard of Cliff Keen, although they also do a lot of team uniforms, and there’s also Gerry Davis. Those two and us are probably the three biggest in terms of officiating uniforms.
UW: What sorts of specific needs do officials have that the rest of us might not think about?
CC: Well, the big thing now is all these wicking fabrics. You saw that the NFL officials had new uniforms last season…
UW: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that.
CC: That material is one of those high-performance wicking fabrics. We try to provide the same type of materials.
UW: So what was the reaction, in your office or in the industry at large, when the NFL came out with that proprietary stripe pattern?
CC: Some guys prefer the traditional look. Me, it kinda grew on me. I liked it when they put the NFL logo on the hat a few years back, too. I was not a fan of the cold-weather black pants, however. I just didn’t think it looked good. When I think of football officials, I think of knickers with striped socks. I don’t really understand why they went to that design. I mean, I’ve never officiated in Green Bay, but I don’t think my legs would be the problem in cold weather.
UW: Speaking of the black and white stripes, aside from the new NFL pattern, are the stripes pretty much the same for all sports? Or are they thicker for this sport and thinner for that one and so on?
CC: It’s pretty much the same. When we sell a lacrosse shirt, it’s the same exact shirt we sell for football. Now, the NFL, before they switched to the new design, they had a two-inch stripe — theirs was always wider than college. For college football, college and high school basketball, and most other sports, it’s a one-inch stripe.
UW: How come college basketball refs wear the stripes and the NBA refs don’t?
CC: I do not know. Actually, high school basketball officials in Maryland use gray shirts, like in the NBA.
CC: And North Carolina has just gone to gray as well. College has gone back and forth several times, but I don’t know why. Now, wrestling and basketball use a V-neck; football and lacrosse still use the collar. Basketball switched from the collar to the V-neck I think in the late ’90s.
UW: I was looking at your web site, and I saw that some of the whistles that you sell have these padded or cushioned mouthpieces. Is that because your lips could get chapped, or you could chip your teeth, or what?
CC: If it’s just a hard plastic or metal whistle, you can chip your teeth when you bite down.
UW: Is that a new innovation?
CC: No, that’s been around for a while. I personally use the cushioned whistle myself.
UW: What are these green and red wrestling wristbands?
CC: Uh-oh. See, I’m a bad sales rep, ’cause I don’t know anything about wrestling.
UW: I wasn’t looking to stump you or anything.
CC: You know, honestly, I don’t have any idea. [Conor later wrote back in an e-mail: “The red and green wrestling wristbands are for the points for each match. I’m not sure how the point system works though.” — PL]
UW: What about this product called the Ultimate Belt? What’s that all about?
CC: That’s for a tailored look. Basketball officials, they wear Sansabelt pants, which means there’s no belt. So if they wear the Ultimate Belt [inside their pants waistband], all it does is just hold the shirt down.
UW: So does it go through the shirt or what?
CC: You would wear it below your waistline.
UW: Inside the pants.
CC: Right, inside the pants. Then you pull your trousers up over it. And whereas a regular belt would help keep your shirttail in while you’re running up and down the court, this keeps your shirt tucked in from the inside.
UW: So it’s sort of like sock garters for your shirt [actually not a very good analogy, but it’s what came to mind at the time — PL].
CC: Exactly. And we sell sock garters too!
UW: So it sorta goes around your hips.
CC: Right. And if I go to, like, formal outings, like a wedding or something where I have to wear a tuxedo, I’ll wear that Ultimate Belt.
UW [incredulous]: Really?!
CC: Yeah. Basically, if I want to look nice — which isn’t very often — or any situation where I want to make sure my shirttail stay in, I’ll wear the Ultimate Belt.
UW: Hmmm, so do you think sports officials look even better than the average person at formal occasions because they have access to this product?
CC: If they’re using the Ultimate Belt, they will look better, yes. If you don’t have your shirts tailored, it gives you that tailored look.
UW: I also liked the volleyball official’s net height measuring chain.
CC: Yeah, that’s just a little chain-style ruler, so they can make sure the net is regulation height.
UW: You know, speaking of chains, the chain gang at an NFL game is usually comprised of local college officials, and the college chain gangs are usually staffed by local high school officials, right?
CC: Yes. For NC State and the Duke games, our local high school association does the chains for them.
UW: So have you ever done that for one of the NCAA games?
CC: Yes, I did the chains for the UNC/Boston College game two years ago.
UW: And what did you wear for that?
CC: You wear your knickers and socks, and they provide you with a vest with the name of the conference, and they give you a hat.
UW: And did you have any occasions to trot out onto the field to do a measurement?
CC: I wasn’t working one of the stakes. I was working one of the alternate markers on the other side of the field.
UW: Were you wishing you were working the stakes? That’s always kind of a dramatic moment when they stretch the chains, y’know?
CC: It would’ve been cool to run out onto the field to do a measurement, but I think I was a little too young for that responsibility.
UW: Now, as a football official, one of the coolest things, I’d imagine, is that you get to throw the flag.
UW: Do you practice that?
CC: Oh, yeah. Like, there’s different types of tosses for different types of penalties. There’s penalties where the enforcement is from the spot of the foul, so you have to throw it on the spot. But let’s say I’m on the sideline and there’s something that I consider to be unsportsmanlike conduct, you just throw it as high as you possibly can.
UW: And you practice all of these.
CC: Well, it’s pretty easy.
UW: But you must have practiced them at some point.
UW: I bet it feels a little dorky to be out there by yourself on an open field practicing your flag throws, doesn’t it?
CC: Well, if you grow up in an officiating family, you’re pretty much around that stuff your whole life.
UW: And be honest with me here: Have you practiced your penalty calls in front of a mirror?
CC: Definitely. And any official who tells you he hasn’t done that is lying. It’s like in baseball, where the umpires all have their signature strikeout calls.
UW: But you can’t really distinguish yourself quite so much with football calls, especially if you’re the back judge.
CC: Yeah, the white hat [the referee] gets more camera time.
UW: Do you hope to be a referee one day?
CC: Eventually, yeah. A lot of times you have to be an official a long time before you can do that, but now a lot of young guys are white hats as well. But back judge is my favorite position — you can see the whole field.
UW: I notice you don’t even like to say the word referee — you just say white hat.
CC: White hat, that’s what we call him, white hat. All the officials I’ve ever talked to, that’s how you refer to him.
UW: Now, the white hat gets to signal the penalties, so what hand signals do you get to make? You get to signal incomplete pass, or out of bounds…
CC: Right, or waving my hands above my head to stop the clock.
UW: And you’ve practiced all of these in front of a mirror too, right?
CC: Oh, yeah. And we wind the clock — like on a kickoff, me and white hat are in the back, and as soon as the receiving team touches the ball in bounds, we wind the clock. Also, as the back judge, I’m in charge of counting the defense to make sure they have 11 men on the field. And we signal with a closed fist to the head linesman and the line judge that yes, they have 11. If there’s 12 men on the field, I’ll give a thumbs up, indicating that there’s one extra player. Or if they only have 10 on the field, which isn’t a penalty, I’ll give a thumbs down.
UW: Has anyone ever made the rookie mistake of doing clock-winding motion counter-clockwise?
CC [sounding as if he’s never thought of this before]: Hmmm…
UW: I mean, that’s something they must tell you right from the start, right? You can’t just wind it — you have to wind it the right way!
CC: We go over all that stuff in these clinics in July, where we go over rules, rule changes, all of that. And I’ve noticed that a first-year football official has no idea how to wear his uniform, what to wear, they’re coming out for their first scrimmages and they don’t know how to wear the socks, they don’t know how to pull the knickers up properly. So I’ve actually considered giving a uniform clinic — this is how you wear your hat, how you tuck your shirt in, and so on.
UW: Do you think you could maybe conduct a similar clinic for Major League Baseball players?
CC: They’re their own breed.
UW: What’s your favorite piece of the uniform? Probably the Ultimate Belt, right?
CC: I like the striped socks, and I’m not just saying that for you.
CC: Yeah, I don’t know why there’s that difference. I like the three-stripe myself.
UW: Maybe it was another case of the NFL trying to have a distinct design. Any other part of the uniform that you particularly like?
CC: I like the striped hat, the black hat with the white stripes. I think they look really good.
UW: But if you eventually get to be the white hat, you won’t get to wear that anymore.
CC: I’d be willing to give it up in that case.
Keen sense of priorities there. Big thanks to Conor for sharing his time and his expertise — much appreciated.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Lots of stuff you may have missed from Wednesday night’s comments (just getting around to them now because I missed them myself): An Indianapolis Star writer is lobbying to have names put on the back of IU hoops jerseys; there are some video shots of what the new Chargers, Gamecocks, and Oregon State unis might look like in action (here’s one more Oregon State shot); and the last question in this Q&A session finds Justin Verlander explaining why he wears No. 35. … Jeremy Brahm reports that the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters will have special uniforms for their August 17th-19th home series. … The Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game will feature camouflage jerseys to support the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity for severely injured military personnel and their families. Details here. … The St. Paul Saints recently had a great Negro Leagues throwback night. Instead of wearing an old uniform, the players wore lots of old uniforms. Full photo gallery here. … “I was just looking at the Australian Football League’s home page and this is their ‘Heritage Week,’ ” writes Jeremy Brahm. ” They have a display on the 22 worst football cards of the 1970s. They also have information on the throwbacks the teams will be wearing, and here‘s a story about the Adelaide Crows’ special jersey.” … There’s logo creep, and then there’s full-on logo assault (good find by Chris Flinn). … “Toffs is basically the Mitchell & Ness of soccer/football vintage jerseys,” says Peter Ripberger. “Lots of cool stuff.” Indeed. … Latest evidence that the Giants’ equipment staff is among the worst in the bigs: Pitcher Scott Atchison was called up on Wednesday morning but as of Thursday night still had no name on his road jersey, and no Rod Beck memorial patch, either. … Here‘s how the new Premier League logo fits on the shirt badges, as modeled by Fernando Torres (with thanks to Brian from Short Island). … Scotland has unveiled its Rugby World Cup jersey (courtesy of Eric Bangeman). … Reprinted from last night’s comments: Now that’s a uniform.