|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JULY 2007|
Most lawyers want to be viewed as wearing the white hat. Jack Folliard really wears one, and he’s often seen by millions of people.
As a Pacific-10 college football referee, he is the one who dons a white cap each Saturday afternoon in the fall. He is the one who, after a penalty, goes before the camera to signal and describe the infraction via his portable microphone.
The referee also serves as crew chief for the other officials on the field, deals with disgruntled coaches, and announces instant replay decisions on the sideline when plays are in question.
Like trying a case in a courtroom, which he has done many times, being a big-college sports official brings "tremendous pressure," concedes Folliard (pronounced "fall-yerd"), a Portland lawyer since 1974 and a sports official since 1969, when he was a student at Lewis & Clark College, calling basketball games.
The (white) cap to his career came in January, when he refereed the Bowl Championship Series title game, the official national championship, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity few officials get.
Starting in the Law
John F. Folliard Jr. began life in Berkeley, Calif., but in the second grade moved with his family to Lake Oswego, where he finished at Lake Oswego High School. He played and loved sports, but was a "second-stringer" rather than a standout, he says. After graduating from Lewis & Clark as an economics major, he went to work for Pacific Northwest Bell.
Folliard was in a management program that would have required him to live in Manhattan for two years, then be sent around the country. He was married by then and wanted to remain in Portland, though, so he left the phone company and entered law school at Lewis & Clark.
His great-uncle Jess Williams in Texas was the only lawyer in his family, but Jess had been prominent in oil and gas law, and Folliard thinks that was somewhat of an influence on his own choice to go to law school.
Folliard’s first job after passing the bar was with what is now Hallmark, Keating & Abbott, and from 1974 until 1997 he was a trial lawyer there, specializing in defending physicians and hospitals. He eventually served as managing shareholder and chief financial officer of the 40-plus member litigation firm.
Robert P. Jones, who later became a renowned circuit court judge in Multnomah County, hired Folliard at the firm and became his mentor. Jones was an old-school, stern taskmaster who applied tough love in bringing up young lawyers in his firm. "We were sort of afraid of Bob, but also respected and admired him," says Folliard.
Moving Up in the Ranks
Folliard had resumed basketball officiating while he was in law school, and had also taken up football officiating, which he did initially to help with expenses. But, he says of officiating: "Sometimes it just grabs onto you. It’s a passion."
Although finding time for the games was tough with his law practice, he managed, and worked his way up the ranks in football from Pop Warner, to junior varsity and high school, then to small-college ball. He became a Pac-10 official in 1982, working variously as a field judge, side judge, line judge and back judge. He has worked as referee for the past five years.
Folliard notes that serving in different positions on a crew before becoming referee is not the typical route. Instead, supervisors usually assign you to a position where you remain. But he thinks working the different spots has helped him greatly in leading a crew, because he knows what each faces.
Law and sports officiating share many parallels, he says. In both law and football, there is a rule book and a case book, and one cannot stop play to consult the books. "We have to know both, like lawyers," and be able to apply what is in them to real-world situations. "You have to react immediately to what’s happening in the courtroom," he says. "I think my legal training and experience have really helped me" on the field.
"Lawyers, by their training, make excellent officials," Folliard observes, and he hopes that some Oregon State Bar members will become inspired to join the fold. Since 2003, he has served as executive director of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association, an organization he helped found that represents over 3,400 high school officials in seven sports. He continued to practice of counsel with two different firms until 2002.
A Paid Hobby
Folliard’s father had died at age 58. After his own children were grown and on their own, Folliard stepped back from representing clients after turning 53. "I had a lot I wanted to pursue," he says. His association duties take 25 to 30 hours a week, and he serves on the State Professional Responsibility Board, the Special Olympics board and committees involved in alpine ski racing, the Portland Golf Club and the Hood to Coast Relay.
Folliard, who also still officiates high school basketball games, says officials aren’t in it for the money. At anything below the professional-sports-league level, they barely make enough to cover the cost of their time, which can be considerable.
"This is an avocation, not a career," says Dan Spreisterbach of Tacoma, Wash., who has worked with Folliard on Pac-10 officiating crews for over 15 years. "We’re from all walks of life. That’s what makes it so much fun." It also adds to the challenge of keeping different personalities working together as a unit on the field, something at which Folliard excels, Spreisterbach says.
Howard Mayo, who has been commissioner of Portland-area high school basketball officials for 30 years, says Folliard has "been one of my top people for years. If it’s a tough game, I don’t have to worry about anything; I know he will handle it professionally."
White cap or not, Folliard recognizes that, depending on the outcome of games, fans often view officials as wearing the black hat. "The pressure is, we desperately want to get the call right, but we know we can’t be perfect 100 percent of the time."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2007 Cliff Collins