JUST BEFORE Mark Warner officiated his final high school football game on Thanksgiving morning, an announcement over the public address system at George Washington High explained that the game would be the 30-year veteran's last.
White hat atop his head, the 1979 Washington grad stood near midfield while his face turned a shade that may have given rise to a post-retirement hobby.
"When they announced all that on the PA system before the game," Warner said, "I swear, I was telling family if my face turned any redder, I would have been able to stop traffic on Bustleton Avenue."
When reached via phone yesterday, Warner was taken aback by the spotlight.
"What we do is supposed to be as under the radar as we possibly can," Warner said, laughing. "We're not supposed to be the center of attention."
To hear him tell it, it would have been hard to mistake Warner growing up as the athletic center of attention.
"No, I was a horrible athlete," he said. "Had to work [in high school] due to some family issues, so trying out wasn't an option. But, to be honest, I know my limitations. I was not very good."
Thirty years ago, Warner, who works in sales at a local bank, talked to a coworker at a company softball game who had worked for the Association of Registered Conference Officials.
Weeks later, Warner worked his first game, reffing 8-year-olds at the Crispin Gardens Playground in the Northeast.
"It was a two-man game and we survived it," he joked. "Been doing it ever since."
Warner plans to finish out his term as president of the Philadelphia Central Board of Football Officials, which runs through 2015, and intends to continue as the rules interpreter for District 12 and the Philly Gridiron Chapter of the PIAA.
After 30 years of service, Warner couldn't identify any one game that stood out above all else. However, he did single out Maria, his wife of "27 wonderful years," as the one person who made a difficult job more enjoyable.
"She's been so supportive throughout this whole time," he said. "We couldn't do what we do without the support from our spouses . . . Every official will tell you that."
Warner also acknowledged Andy Hafele, former coordinator of officials for the Catholic and Inter-Ac Leagues, who died in February.
"It starts with the people that I work with and work for," Warner said. "There are numerous officials I've worked with over the years. You'll never find a better bunch of people."
Warner led his final crew as his alma mater, Washington, lost to Archbishop Ryan, 28-20.
"Talk about coming full circle," he said. "I went to Washington-Ryan games when I was a student there."
However, in the end, that game, like the others that came before, wasn't about him.
"I've always tried to make it be about the players," Warner said. "It's their game. They're the ones who work their tails off in practice, Friday night and Saturday. And I've always tried to keep that in mind, because they're the ones who put in the work. It's not about us."
When DeJason Ellis launched a pair of good field goals last week in Mastery North's 8-6 loss to Simon Gratz, it's possible the junior became the first black player to do so, according to TedSilary.com. Ellis, a 5-7, 179-pounder, has successfully booted four triples this season, including a 33-yarder Oct. 23 against Dobbins (MN won, 17-13) . . . Also, with Friday's 44-7 gnawing of Great Valley, Archbishop Wood coach Steve Devlin is only four wins shy of 100. In his eighth season as head Viking, Devlin (96-17) is also the Catholic League's all-time leader in win percentage among coaches within their first eight seasons at .850.
Top 10 city high school football teams
1. St. Joseph's Prep 9-3
2. Archbishop Wood 2-1
3. Haverford School 9-1
4. Imhotep 11-2
5. Ben Franklin 11-1
6. La Salle 8-3
7. Ss. Neumann-Goretti 9-5
8. Malvern Prep 6-4
9. Simon Gratz 11-2
10. Prep Charter 10-1-1
Also considered: Archbishop Ryan, Bonner-Prendergast, Del-Val, Springside Chestnut Hill, West Catholic