COLUMBIA — Pete Wilden stands out at his post in the middle of Field 2 on Friday evening at Cosmopolitan Park. He wears a bright orange T-shirt and black shorts and a has a black hat to keep the beaming sun out of his eyes.
As head referee, Wilden follows the action up and down the field in the Show-Me State Games' men's open division soccer game between the Budweiser Flyers from Chesterfield and the Hanniballaz from Hannibal. The teams are playing in the recreational division, but 30 minutes in the game seems extra competitive. Wilden's whistle has blown often because of rough play by both squads.
A Hanniballaz player wins possession of the ball on a rough tackle and takes off in the other direction but is soon brought to the ground on a tackle from behind by the same Flyers player from which he stole the ball. Wilden is forced to rush into action when the Hanniballaz player pops off the ground and cocks a fist at the Flyers player.
"He didn't make contact," Wilden says. "If he would've actually hit him, he would've been given a red card and sent off."
Instead both players are given yellow cards and are taken aside for a talk from Wilden in an attempt to prevent more rough play.
"These guys (the referees) get paid to help out," says Leslie Raines, a Show-Me State Games soccer volunteer. "But I'd much rather volunteer and watch than have to deal with that."
The Hanniballaz range in age from 18 to 22, but the Flyers are noticeably older. Some have gray in their hair and beards and have children playing near the team's bench. But the bickering between the teams does not stop.
Wilden says he is used to this sort of behavior. He has been refereeing in the Show-Me State Games for five years, mostly working adult contests.
"You tend to deal with a lot of that kind of stuff a lot more with the older guys," Wilden says. "That was a calm game compared to most at this age level."
At halftime, Wilden and his refereeing crew meet and discuss adjustments for the second half.
"There were two players on each team that we needed to keep an eye on," Wilden says. "So in the second half, I made sure I was close by when those players touched the ball because hopefully if they see me, then they know they won't be able to get away with anything."
At one point in the second half, a Hanniballaz defender starts singing "why can't we be friends," during an argument between the teams. Wilden is in complete control, though, and greets players' complaints with a cold shoulder.
"There's only three totally unbiased people involved in the game," Wilden says. "Both teams are going to complain about calls equally. If there's only one team complaining, then there's a problem."
At the end of the game, Wilden says he thinks he has done his job. The game was as clean as possible, and his efforts are recognized by a Hanniballaz player, "Good job, and sorry again for being a hot-head sir."
"It's no problem," Wilden replies with a smile.
"He was one of the players we were talking about trying to keep a closer eye on in the second half," Wilden says.