Bullen hanging up his whistle

Bubba Bullen ready to retire from officiating

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Bubba Bullen explains a foul call to the crowd as he officiates a recent football game at Stocker Stadium. This is the last season that he’ll be refereeing football.

He won’t miss calling a game in a blinding snowstorm, separating players whose emotions have gotten the best of them or the 23-hour days like the one he spent officiating a game in Durango.

What David “Bubba” Bullen will miss, however, is being a part of the action on the football field on a Friday night at Stocker Stadium and developing more relationships like the ones he’s made over the past 30 years.

His knees and his back just won’t let him do what he could a few years ago.

That’s Bullen’s reasoning behind giving up an avocation into which he’s put hours and hours.

After the postseason, which he hopes brings him and a Grand Junction crew another chance to call a playoff game, he’s hanging up his whistle.

Bullen, 55, has officiated high school sports around here for as long as anyone can remember.

After his graduation from Adams State College in 1976, he began spending summer nights at the softball park.

“I hung around and saw guys like (umpires Bill) Fanning and (Mike) Kronkright and it looked like fun,” he said.

With Bullen’s older brother, Mike, involved in sports officiating, it seemed like a natural step for him to take in keeping his hand in athletics.

His first sport was basketball, which he did for 26 years. Bullen eventually became a softball umpire for 25 years and a baseball umpire for 20.

Officiating four sports yields itself to a lot of abuse over the years. So why take the arguments with coaches and the yelling from the fans in the stands?

“I remember thinking (that) you’d have a season of games where you’d say, ‘This isn’t much fun.’ Then you have that one game where you’d say, ‘This is fun.’ When you can walk off the field and say ‘I did a good job,’ that’s fun.”

That’s what kept bringing him back — that one game where the coaches and players conducted themselves in a sportsmanlike manner and he knew he’s officiated a good and fair game.

He had a demarcation line.

“My feeling about coaches is, as long as you’re doing something for the good of the kids, I’ll let it go,” he said.

That’s provided the coach doesn’t get personal or start swearing.

“I’ve had some great relationships with coaches,” he said.

Still, among the best relationships he’s developed are with his fraternity of referees and umpires.

“A lot of people I do stuff with are officials,” Bullen said. “I go golfing, I go fishing (with them).”

Even their wives are friends.

Ah yes, the wives.

“It’s a tough thing for spouses,” Bullen said of not only the time involved but also having to hold their tongues when they hear abuse heaped upon their husbands.

Fortunately for Bullen, his wife, Lyn, wholeheartedly supported his endeavors.

“She’s been awfully good about that,” he said.

In addition to the games and travel, there’s the weekly officials meetings, where the association gets together to review film, go over rules and discuss calls that came up during the previous week.

“People don’t realize how hard officials work at rules,” Bullen said. “There’s a lot of studying the rules.”

His favorite memories are of officiating playoff games, such as the 2004 Class 3A state championship game in Rifle — a close game that Rifle won 7-6 over Sterling.

“The small-town games are great,” he said of the atmosphere a game of that magnitude brings to a community.

He’ll miss interacting with the players.

“It can be a ton of fun out there, but you have to make it fun,” he said.

Those Friday nights, with the lights shining at Stocker Stadium. Those are the moments he’ll miss the most.

“It’s been a great run.”


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