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Episcopal priest devotes his free time to football as coordinator of officials who conduct the games

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Rev. Matt Young puts on brightly colored vestments to conduct Sunday worship services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport. It’s a much different outfit than the drab black-and-white striped shirts he always wore as a football official.

Young, who received a Master of Divinity degree in 1998, is not the first clergyman to spend his free time conducting football games, but he knows it’s an unusual combination.     

“People are sometimes taken aback by that, but there’s people from all walks of life in officiating,” he said. “The neatest thing about high school officiating was it’s like the beginning of a joke. You know, where you say a priest, a truck driver and a lawyer walk into a football stadium.”

Matt Young has been involved with football officiating on the high school or college level for more than 30 years. (Photo from ovcsports.com)

Young was recently named Supervisor of the Year by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association for the work he’s done as assigning secretary for Northern Kentucky high school football officials.

The 51-year-old priest has been doing that since 2014, but he’s turning the job over to someone else this year because he’ll be coordinator of officiating for the Ohio Valley Conference and four additional college programs.

“Honestly, I thoroughly enjoy it and wish I could continue to be the (high school officials) supervisor, but there’s just so many hours in the day,” Young said. “But I’m still going to be involved. Actually, I’ll probably be back out on the field this fall for some high school games.”

A 1988 graduate of Conner High School, Young never played football for the Cougars even though his father, Bob, was head coach of the program while he was a student.

He did know enough about the game to become a high school football official at the age of 19 and worked on that level for 17 years.  In 2006, he moved up to officiating college games in the Ohio Valley Conference and went on to become the league’s coordinator of officials in 2017.

Fr. Matt Young has been rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport since 2012. (Photo provided)

Young hasn’t been on the field blowing a whistle and throwing penalty flags ever since he took that job, but his officiating resume speaks for itself.

He was selected for high school state championship games and named 2006 Official of the Year by the KHSAA. In college, he was on the crews for several Football Championship Subdivision playoff games, including the nationally televised 2009 final. He was named the outstanding official in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2011.

Young was appointed vicar at St. Paul’s Church in 2004. When he became rector in 2012, he was still able to continue his officiating career.

“I’ve been at St. Paul’s for 17 years and I’ve been very blessed over that time period to have a parish and group of people who understand it’s important for me to have interests outside the formal church,” he said.

“I think it helps you to be a little more well-rounded. It helps you to sort of get out and see what’s going on in the world. It complements it all.”

Young also serves as chaplain for the Newport Fire Department. He visits two stations in the city that employ 36 fire fighters and paramedics as another way to be involved in the community.

There’s a shortage of high school football officials in Kentucky so Young would like to be back on the field this coming season if he can find the time. When people hear there’s a clergyman on an officiating crew, they often ask the same question.

“People ask us all the time, ‘Do you pray before games?’ and we say, ‘Absolutely, we pray that we don’t screw this up,’” Young said with a chuckle.

“Now, as a college coordinator, I just pray and hold my breath until Saturday’s over and hope that the staff (of officials) that you think needs to be in Division I football games does a great job, and most of the time they do.”


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