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TORONTO — Rolly Lumbala is a rookie again.
The former CFL player will be among nine participants in the CFL's inaugural Officiating Academy, a program aimed at increasing the number of qualified, high-performance officials in Canada. Lumbala and the others will get to work with league staff and officials to increase their officiating knowledge and improve their on-field skills.
"Yeah, I'm a rookie again all over," Lumbala said with a chuckle. "I just hope they're nice to me, that's all."
The six-foot-two, 245-pound Lumbala spent 11 seasons as a fullback with the B.C. Lions (2008-2018) but has remained in football as a high-school official. Joining Lumbala, 36, of Langley, B.C., will be Alex Boily, of St-Georges, Que., Hassan Cohen, of Nanaimo, B.C., Eric Gyebi, of Brampton, Ont., Romeo Kabongo, of Airdrie, Alta., Winnipeg's Stephanie Korchynski and Kyle Mikulik, Anthony Williams of Dartmouth, N.S., and Halifax's Vincent Williams.
The participants will attend an officiating training camp May 13-15 and work with/learn from current CFL officials. There could also be opportunities for assignments to the women’s red/white game, East-West Bowl, passing showcases and CFL training camp scrimmages as well as serve as support staff for CFL games or in the league's command centre.
"It will be a much different training camp than what I'm used to," Lumbala said. "It's going to be a process.
"I'm going in there with a rookie's mentality. I'll continue to push myself and work extremely hard to learn from those guys, those veterans. There's been many guys who've helped me throughout this process who're veteran referees and I'm extremely thankful for that. I'm going to put my head down and work hard."
The nine will take part in the program for a maximum of two years. Successful graduates may be selected to join the CFL's staff or remain in the amateur ranks until a pro opportunity arises. The academy will include virtual and in-person sessions.
"The life of an official extends beyond the field," said Darren Hackwood, the CFL's associate vice-president, officiating. "Our goal is to put officials in the best position to succeed, and in turn, they’ll be able to better support well-officiated and well-played football.
"Beyond the program, we’ll continue to work with our participants and monitor their progress as they move forward with their officiating careers."
As a Lions captain, Lumbala often interacted with officials during games. The key, he said, was keeping discussions respectful, especially during those times when he didn't understand why certain calls were made.
"I've always had an interest, honestly, to understand the game better and understand why some calls are made and how we can improve the game," Lumbala said. "I've always felt there should be more players involved in the process … and that being a player and referee went hand-in-hand.
"They should have a way to communicate, understand and talk things out."
And it's an approach he continues to take today as an official.
"As a player, that's what you want, you want open communication," he said. "We need to stop having this thought that officials and players are against each other.
"We need to work together so we can understand each other and be able to perform better and understand what's expected from one another. That's what my mindset is, to build that bridge between players and officials so we're all on the same page."
Lumbala said his experience as a player has definitely helped him as an official.
"I think I understand matchups better and communicating with players," he said. "I understand what the play is, where it will be, how to position myself and what to look for.
"But I'm also learning on the run right now. It's a long process and I understand I have to put the work in and I'm looking forward to that."
Ultimately, Lumbala would like to return to the CFL as an official.
"It's the ultimate goal for many of us," he said. "I think it would be great to be a part of the CFL again from an officials standpoint.
"(Officiating) is a great way to continue to be involved in the game of football. It's awesome to be back on the field and be part of a crew, a team, and to be in it together. I'm very grateful to have that opportunity."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2022.
The Canadian Press