How Farmer/Referee Steve Spivey Balances Fall Harvest and Football Season (VIDEO)

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In rural towns across Illinois, high schools often celebrate Friday night football with farm flair.

The local FFA chapter may present the flag for the national anthem. A farm family could harvest by headlights in a cornfield within sight of the football field. Usually, the crowd contains a few identifiable farmers, who parked the combine and tractors for a few hours to watch their sons play.

And on a football field in northwestern Illinois, fans may even spot lifelong farmer Steve Spivey officiating the game.

Steve Spivey

Steve Spivey breaks up the fall harvest by refereeing Friday night football. Photo by Michael Tedesco

Friday Night Lights

“There are some weeks, come Friday night, I’m ready to get away from harvest for a few hours,” says Spivey, a fourth-generation corn, soybean and cattle farmer in Henry County. “It’s a nice refresher to get away for the evening and put everything associated with harvest off to the side for a few hours, and I have a much better attitude come Saturday morning.”

Spivey has blended farming and football throughout his 37-year career of officiating and looks forward to his 38th season this fall. He took only two years off from refereeing Friday night games to watch his own son play. Those commitments to football have made him step away from his tractor and grain wagon at harvest time, a critical season that supports the livelihood for any farm.

“It’s all a balancing act,” says Spivey, who often operates a tractor with wagon until within three hours of kickoff, depending on the distance to the game. “You learn how to budget your time. It’s all about making priorities and taking time out to do them. I enjoy officiating. It allows me to still participate in the sport and be part of it. And it gives me a break from my hectic fall routine, which I find refreshing.”

Steve Spivey

Photo by Michael Tedesco

Suiting Up in Stripes

Spivey grew up on the family farm in New Windsor and played sports in high school. His officiating interest began while refereeing intramural football and basketball at Michigan State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in ruminant nutrition.

Today, he officiates both high school football and basketball. Together with his football crew of four other referees, he enforces football’s rules every Friday night across five Illinois High School Association conferences. The men also officiate a few early-season Saturday games before harvest starts.

Steve Spivey

During football season, Spivey plans out the Friday night harvest schedule with his wife, Sandy, and farm partner and sister, Steph Giertz. While Spivey suits up in stripes, the family and part-time employees continue to gather the crops. Likewise, the family makes similar plans if Giertz has a commitment that pulls her away from harvest.

“There is more to life just as important – if not more important – than planting and harvesting,” Spivey says. “You just need to keep that perspective.”

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