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Soccer official Jordan Barker, left, keeps an eye on the action between Rowan Counry and East Carter during a game Wednesday, Sept.6, 2017, in Morehead. Barker has been named KHSAA Official of the Year. (Photo by John Flavell)

Between impassioned players, intense coaches and physical play, properly refereeing soccer in the 16th Region requires a mastery of managing personalities.

Jordan Barker has done that well enough to be selected the KHSAA’s Official of the Year for soccer.

“Half of it is reading people and reading situations, and some of it just comes from experience,” Barker said. “In soccer here especially, there’s not a whole lot of us (officials); therefore, on a year-in, year-out basis, you get to know the players on every team. You can catch the flow of a game in the first five minutes. How do they want the game to be played?

“I try to let the kids decide it as much as possible, let them play the game the way they want to play it. Each game is slightly different.”

Barker was honored as the state’s top soccer official at a banquet on Sunday in Lexington. He completed his seventh season as a high school soccer official last fall. He also referees soccer in the Ohio Valley Conference and at the NAIA level and did a Marshall nonconference game last year.

Barker also has seven years in as a basketball referee and is in his fifth season as a baseball umpire. He is on a pitch, court or diamond often enough that he quit his day job two years ago to officiate full-time. “Oh man, I love it,” Barker said. “It keeps me in touch with the game. It’s a way I like to give back. The game offered me a lot, so I try to give back to the game.”

Barker, 29, graduated from Rowan County in 2008. He played soccer and basketball for the Vikings, but he feels no particular pull toward his alma mater when he arbits a Rowan County game.

“Nobody’s left from when I was there,” said Barker, who still lives in Morehead. “I don’t personally feel like I have any issues or ties to the school anymore. I’m so far removed, nobody coaches there that I played with. You’re gonna run into that (coincidental tie) no matter what town you live in.”

Barker’s experience playing soccer helps him know what to look for when he’s officiating a game.

“In my personal opinion, everybody plays the game a little different, so it’s gonna give everybody a different perspective, and everybody officiates a little different,” Barker said. “It does open your eyes to what players are looking for, what they expect, and when they understand that you played the game and you know what they’re going through, it just gives you another level to relate to the players.”

Barker put that into practice before the most important high school game he’s called. He was the head referee for the girls state tournament championship game last fall, in which Sacred Heart beat Highlands, 2-1, on a free kick in the 65th minute.

“It’s something I’ll never forget. Not only for the players, the coaches and the parents, but that was a memory for me, too,” Barker said. “That was something I took to heart during my pregame speech to the players. It wasn’t about the game, who won and lost; I said, ‘Guys, we’re all here to have a good time. This is a memory that’s gonna last you forever. Let’s remember it and do the game in honor.’” A couple of coaches said that respectful communication is a strength of Barker’s work.

“Jordan does a great job at communicating with me on fouls and questions that I might have during the match,” Boyd County boys soccer coach Logan Price said. “He will listen to what I have to say and has always been respectful to me in his comments and responses during those interactions, which I probably didn’t make it easy to do. He’s approachable, fair, and knows the rules. Glad to have him in our region as an official and our assigning secretary.”

Concurred Rowan County boys coach Max Hammond III: “He takes the job about as serious as you can. He is very professional on the field and calls the game to the best of his judgment. I don’t always agree with all of the calls he makes, but I can see why he made his decision. I wish we had four or five more soccer officials that know the game and are as professional as Jordan.”

Barker became the 16th Region’s soccer assigning secretary — meaning he’s responsible for deciding which referees cover which games — for middle school play this spring.

“When the opportunity came up, I jumped at it,” Barker said. “I really would like to see the game improve in this area, and whether that’s from a playing standpoint or an officiating standpoint, I just want to see it grow and be better for everybody involved — players, coaches, parents, top to bottom.”

Despite being just 29, Barker is one of the more prominent soccer officials in the 16th Region and becoming accustomed to that role.

“Once I first got into it, I never thought it would take me where it’s taken me,” Barker said. “Being younger, there were veterans when I started that absolutely did it the right way, showed me the way, and I fell in love with it.

“Being younger and showing some of the younger guys that it’s possible and you can actually do it and succeed is something that I hold very dear to me, and it actually has helped me recruit some younger guys.”

Barker is always looking for more of them. For more information on becoming an official, contact Barker at refjordanbarker@gmail.com.