MERIDEN — Football official Ronnie Patry has worn the black and white stripes and blown the whistle for 40 years and is now wrapping up his career.
The 67-year-old Meriden resident started officiating in youth football and shortly after graduated to the high school and the college ranks.
Most likely his last college game will be today’s NCAA Division III second-round tilt between Springfield College and Ithaca in upstate New York. He also will wear the white hat for a CIAC quarterfinal game on Tuesday night.
Patry, a one-time player at Platt (Class of 1973) and Mattatuck Community College, started down the road of football officiating in 1982, when he was coaching his son Timothy’s South Meriden baseball team and his wife Lynne had just gotten pregnant with their daughter Jill.
“My wife announced to me she was pregnant,” Patry recalled. “We lived on Murray Street across from Washington Park. I saw games going on and I saw the stripes and I needed a hobby. So I started to officiate.
“I was terrible at first, but it’s a process and it takes time. I remember when I first started like it was yesterday.”
Patry got better and moved up from youth football. Within two years he was working high school varsity games as line judge on a four-man crew.
By 1990, he was a back judge, playing a pivotal role in implementing a five-man officiating system. He was also working Division II and III college games.
By 2000, he was on seven-man crews, primarily as a referee, but also handling every other officiating slot save for umpire.
He’s worked high school and college postseason games.
In the first college game he refereed — Merchant Marine at Coast Guard — he flipped the coin for the directors of Homeland Security and Defense to call. In the ranks of the Central Connecticut Association of Football Officials, he’s risen as high as vice president.
“This is my last year and I’m walking away at the right time,” Patry said. “I’ve done it for 40 years and the last 15 years in college. I’ve done 10 ECAC Bowl bowl games and I was nominated four times for the playoffs. The last there years I’ve been a line judge. This year, I’m the referee.”
Patry came up with a Meriden contingent of officials: Bob Burbank, Dave Friend and Skip Chase. Friend was a mentor of Patry’s.
“He’s an outstanding official, a great guy and we’ve been friends for a long time on and off the field,” Friend said.
Patry said he’s gotten a lot of support over the years.
“Biggest fan and biggest critic has been my wife Lynne. I’ve been lucky to do it this long and not have any serious injuries,” Patry said.
“The decision was not difficult,” he added. “I left Salve Regina lat weekend and it was a blue sky and 72 degrees. I left the stadium feeling satisfied to wrap up four decades. A ton of people think its hard for me to go and are pressing me to stay, but I’m ready to move on.”
Patry said he’s excited to spend more time with his grandchildren Josh, Oliver, Saliya and Daxton. He’ll play more goal and, yes, he will still go to football games, but just to watch.
Patry said he conducted himself in a professional manner at all times on the field, even when getting an earful from a coach.
“I give the respect that I receive,” Patry said. “I try to clam the coach down with body language. If they keep going, I try to shut them out. I explain myself and, when I made a mistake, I would own up to it.
“I’m the coolest cat in the place, and you have to be. When I was younger, it was harder to be that way.
“Officials are a dying breed,” Patry added. “You have to do a lot for $100 dollars a game.”
What kept him coming back?
“The guys, the brotherhood,” Patry replied. “High school is fun and college is a passion. I like using the expression that me and my crew are ‘in a pocket.’ When everyone is moving in sync, it’s a thing of beauty. We start the year iffy and we really get it down really well when the season is over. I think right now I’m so comfortable with the rules and giving my calls on the microphone.”
Patry said the two major rule changes during his tenure were outlawing blocking below the waist outside of the tackle box and targeting (in college).
Patry played baseball and football at Platt. He was a linebacker on the 9-1 football team in 1971.
He’s excited about working about the Springfield-Ithaca game.
“Ithaca is undefeated and pass the ball, and Springfield runs the triple option and are disciplined,” Patry said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. Our crew had a Zoom call and we are all pumped and are ready to go right now.”
Patry lost his mother Yvette in 2020 and has dedicated every game since to her as well as to his wife. Patry keeps his mother’s ring with him during games and kisses it before the game starts.
“Being an official is my escape,” Patry said. “It’s a few hours where I don’t worry about anything else. That I will miss.”