WATERVILLE — Joe Cosgrove never saw this honor coming. The most deserving rarely do.

“It was a little bit of a surprise when I got the letter,” Cosgrove, 76, said.

Recently, the Maine Chapter of the National Football Foundation named Cosgrove this year’s winner of the Football Officials Award at its annual banquet.

Health problems kept Cosgrove from attending. His son, Mike, and daughter, Leslie, accepted the honor on Cosgrove’s behalf. He can’t drive any more, and while his body is betraying him, Cosgrove’s mind is still sharp, and he has so many memories of his 50 years of officiating, they pour out of him like water, as if he just stepped off the field.

There was the Class B state championship game in the 80s at Bowdoin College, Brunswick vs. Lawrence. Late in the fourth quarter, Lawrence had a touchdown lead, and Brunswick was desperate to get back the ball. Lawrence was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, and Cosgrove began marking it off. A Lawrence player walked with him, barking loudly about the call.

“I said, ‘Son, you’ve got to be quiet.'”

The player continued complaining, and Cosgrove threw another flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Son of a gun, the kid still hasn’t stopped yet. He keeps going. I said, ‘If you don’t stop, I’ll walk this ball right to the goal line.'”

Cosgrove threw a third flag. Forty-five yards in penalties later, they ran the next play. Lawrence held on to win, and after the game, Cosgrove and the other officials were rushed by an irate Brunswick fan.

There was a Lawrence-Winslow game at Keyes Field in Fairfield. Cosgrove forgets the exact year, but it was at the height of the Lawrence-Winslow rivalry. Right before the end of the first half, a Lawrence player made a diving catch in the end zone for a touchdown. Or did he? Neither Cosgrove nor any of the other officials got a clean look at the play. It was one of those rare plays in which everyone had his view at least partially blocked.

Cosgrove and the officials huddled together to sort it out. When Cosgrove backed away from the huddle and raised his arms to signal touchdown, everyone at Keyes Field went nuts. Lawrence fans in joy, Winslow fans in outrage. Harold Violette, Winslow’s coach, gave Cosgrove his opinion of the call at halftime.

“Harold let me have it.”

A college game at Maine Maritime Academy, in the pouring rain.

“We were standing in water and mud.”

The day he did two games, an afternoon game in Belfast, and a big night game in Auburn between then-powerhouses Brewer and Edward Little.

“Between games, I had just enough time to run home to Winslow, changed gear except for my shoes, and get to Auburn.”

The day he umpired three nine-inning games at the American Legion state tournament at Togus, one behind the plate.

“That’s a long day. I was going one foot to the other foot during that last game, trying to stand.”

The day he umpired the annual college all-star game at Fenway Park, in 1987.

“I remember taking my dad with me. He had a great time.”

There was the day he did back-to-back lacrosse games in Brunswick, alone, when the other official never showed up. The first game went into overtime. Then the second game did, too.

“Three and a half hours, up and down the field.”

There was the state championship game in 1999, when Cosgrove knew it would be his last on the field. He spent the final 15 years of his officiating career working the clock, at high school games and Colby College.

“I just knew. It was so cold, it was all I could do to move.”

It was just a few years into his officiating career when Cosgrove took a call from Waterville High athletic director Wally Donovan, who was looking for a top notch official to work an upcoming game.

The game was the annual Waterville-Winslow game. Donovan knew Cosgrove was a young graduate of Winslow, but he also knew Cosgrove was a fair referee. That show of respect stuck with Cosgrove his entire career.

“I was never not welcome at any school. You’ve got to be doing something right…I always felt my job was to take care of everything between the white lines. I did the games so the kids had fair play. I’d have done the games for nothing, at the end. I just enjoyed it.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

<URL destination=””>[email protected]

</URL>Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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