Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Marc Ratner was thumbing through the newspaper one day when he stumbled upon an advertisement seeking sports officials.
He went to a meeting that Sunday evening at Las Vegas High School, and the following Friday night, was working on the chain crew of a high school football game. That was in the fall of 1966.
Ratner has rarely missed a Friday night since.
He’ll retire in November as the commissioner of the Southern Nevada Officials Association, finally stepping away from a post he’s proudly served in since the early 1990s. He’s the liaison between game officials and the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the Clark County School District and local high schools.
If there’s an ejection in a prep game, he determines the penalty. When it’s time for a state championship game, he picks the referee crew. When there’s a meeting with officials from CCSD or the NIAA, he’s at the front of the table to give input.
And when he speaks, he’s got the attention of many.
“He’s respected by everybody,” says Vince Kristosik, president of the Southern Nevada Officials Association. “What he says goes, with the schools and with the officials. He has the respect because he’s fair. When he makes a decision, he takes the time to listen to get input from both sides.”
What makes Ratner most valuable is the time he invests in high school sports. It’s his passion — and something he, quite frankly, could have outgrown.
Ratner’s career has had a similar impact in combat sports, where his passion for boxing and going to small cards at the old Showboat turned into a job as a prefight inspector with the Nevada Athletic Commission. After a few years, he became the commission’s chief inspector.
By 1992, he was asked by then-Gov. Bob Miller to become the executive director of the commission. Every fight, whether it was a small card on Boulder Highway or a Mike Tyson fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena, was under his watchful eye.
Ratner left the commission in 2006 to join the Ultimate Fighting Championship as its vice president for regulatory affairs, helping pave the way for combat sports to become approved in various states and countries. Having someone with the prestige of Ratner representing the event with regulatory boards was invaluable for the UFC.
And, yet, on Friday nights, Ratner can be found in the same spot — at one of the 10 events staffed by the officials association. His reasoning for staying involved in preps is downright refreshing.
“I’m a high school sports fan. I just love it,” said Ratner, 79, who is only stepping back from working as the prep sports commissioner. “I still love it after all of these years. I will still be coming to games.
Committed to the kids
Kristosik started thumbing through paperwork one evening this month and realized there were a handful of athletes ejected in the previous week’s football games who had appealed the ensuing automatic one-game suspension. Ratner was in Paris preparing for a UFC card and likely already in bed.
By the time Kristosik woke up, Ratner had already messaged to start the review process. It was 4 a.m.
Officials send a game report to Ratner for each player or coach ejected. Ratner then prepares documentation for CCSD and the NIAA. But, it’s never that cut and dried.
“If the school wants to appeal the ejection, which they frequently do, Marc requests game video and calls the officials and the schools,” Kristosik said. “It’s a big part of his day to hear everyone’s side.”
Liberty High football coach Rich Muraco saw the dedication firsthand a few years ago when Ratner showed up at the school and was in his office to talk about an athlete in question. The men watched game film of the incident, giving Ratner the opportunity to explain his reasoning on the punishment, Muraco said.
“I love the guy,” said Muraco, who is one of the Las Vegas area’s longest tenured coaches and an officer in the Southern Nevada Football Coaches Association. “He has always been one of the most fair people. He is going to listen to our side of things and allow us to present evidence. He’s obviously in a tough spot. He has to show that he has the officials’ back while also (advocating) for kids.”
Telling an athlete they are suspended from participating is a necessary part of the job, but by no means is it something either side enjoys. That’s why having someone of integrity and fairness is paramount.
Ratner is humbled — almost embarrassed — to hear the nice things his colleagues have to say about him. Like all good referees, he doesn’t desire the spotlight, which he says belongs to the prep athletes.
“The kids, that’s why we’re here,” he says
Still just a phone call away
Ratner looks out at the auditorium mostly filled with UNLV athletes and starts detailing his love for officiating. It’s taken him to some cool places — working the shot clock at an NCAA Tournament regional, a college bowl game featuring Notre Dame, backstage at a prize fight, across the globe for UFC and, equally important, the high school sports sideline.
“He’s the only commissioner I’ve known,” Kristosik said. “You just don’t replace that knowledge. Marc deals with 10 sports, and he has knowledge of all of them inside and out. Working around high school sports, that’s his real passion. With all he has going on, you have to have that passion.”
Ratner teams with Kristosik to teach a sports officiating course on Tuesdays, hoping the next step in some of the students’ athletic journey is joining the association to work games.
He’s determined to find a few students to do what he did in 1966 by working the chain crew of a football game and being hooked for life. He still remembers the game — Basic against Bishop Gorman. David Humm, who went on to play for the Raiders, was the Gorman quarterback.
The association is desperately hurting for referees, especially after its roster was gutted during the pandemic. For many, it’s a hobby to stay involved in sports — and in the pandemic we all found other hobbies.
While Ratner is stepping down as commissioner, he’ll still attend most association training meetings on Sundays and be a phone call away. He’s there to listen, train, teach and encourage.
It, after all, has been his life’s calling. And he sincerely hopes he can lead by example.
“When you watch TV, do you yell at the officials and say you can do better?” Ratner said in a plea to the community to have residents join their ranks.
[email protected] / 702-990-2662 / @raybrewer21