Engineering Alum Hangs Up Whistle After 30 Years of Officiating College Football Games
During the week, Old Dominion University engineering graduate Les Flora works as a senior project manager for Virginia Natural Gas, recently overseeing a 21-mile transmission line extension, linking Newport News and Norfolk.
For the past 30 years, however, Flora has also held down a part-time job that's been more interesting than most.
The triple-degree holder from ODU ('74 B.S. in math, '80 B.S. in mechanical engineering and '89 M.E.M. in engineering management) spent three decades of Friday nights and Saturday afternoons as a football official.
He retired last fall after eight seasons as a line judge with the Atlantic Coast Conference. His final game was the Army-Navy contest in December.
"On that particular day, it's one of the biggest games in the country," Flora says. "Those kids put it out there on the line. So you can't help but get pumped up being in that environment."
Thirty years ago, Flora and his wife, Leigh, both were completing ODU degrees and working full time. "I finished in two years, my wife in three. At the end of my stint, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I had a buddy who was doing high school football, and I went out and started officiating," he says.
After 10 years at the high school level, Flora started doing Division III college games, gradually working his way up until he finally received the call to work for one of the 10 ACC crews who do games in and out of conference, all over the Eastern United States. "It's more a matter of being in the right place at the right time than anything," Flora says of getting the call from the ACC. "There are 100 guys out there who can do what you do as well as you can."
As a line judge, Flora was responsible for making calls about plays that occur on the line of scrimmage, such as holding and offside penalties.
He's been all over the eastern United States officiating, working a game in Notre Dame Stadium last fall, something that - along with the Army-Navy game - was on his to-do list.
Flora says the best part of being an official is that you actually get to be part of the games you follow. "There are three teams on the field, the two teams playing against each other and our team," Flora says. "Everyone else is outside the lines."
Of course, you have to be wired a little differently to enjoy, for example, calling a holding penalty that negates a touchdown for Virginia Tech and getting yelled at by 50,000 Hokie fans.
"If you know in your gut you've made a good call - you know you've nailed it - and the fans are riding your butt, you just about like it. You think to yourself, 'I'm right, and all you other zeros don't know,'" Flora says with a laugh.
Flora knew this past season would be his final one. "A week from today I'm going in for knee replacement. That was the deciding factor for me."
But aside from spending more time at home, Flora sees another benefit of hanging up his whistle - he can now attend football games at his alma mater, ODU.
"I'm very excited. Even though I wasn't able to see any games because I was on the road, I followed them in the newspaper on Sunday," Flora says.
He met head football coach Bobby Wilder a few years ago, when the current ODU coach piloted Maine against Appalachian State in a Football Championship Subdivision playoff game.
"I actually introduced myself to coach Wilder shortly after he started here, and said I had worked that particular game," Flora recalls. "He seems like a great guy, and he's helped put together a marvelous roadmap for our team.
"In fact, I'm going to have to figure out how to get season tickets, because I'll need something to do on Saturday."
This article was posted on: February 11, 2010
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