Fulton Carson began his officiating career 25 years ago at an MHSAA junior high football game in Vicksburg.
January 11th in South Florida, Mr. Carson gets rewarded for his two and half decades of devotion and excellence by working the University of Alabama-Ohio State University showdown for the College Football Playoff National Championship. He will be on the field as side judge for the eight-man crew at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the University of Miami Hurricanes and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
“I actually sort of had to pinch myself,” Mr. Carson said. “I’d just got back from working the Big XII championship game (December 19th), which obviously is a huge highlight in any official’s career. Then I found out that I’d be getting this opportunity and it just puts you in the stratosphere. Now you just have to refocus and continue to stay safe (from Covid-19).”\
A multi-sport athlete for Utica High School (Class of 1983), Mr. Carson went on to play shortstop at Mississippi Valley State University.\
“I grew up in the Reggie Jackson era, so I always dreamed of wearing those pinstripes and playing in Yankee Stadium when I was a kid,” he said.
Mr. Carson would earn his opportunity in baseball’s most historic venue, though the experience wasn’t quite as he had envisioned.
“I worked the football bowl game (between Michigan State and Wake Forest) last year,” he said. “There I was standing at shortstop in the stadium so many baseball greats had played. The difference was instead of pinstripes, I was wearing officials’ stripes.”
Mr. Carson’s is quick to share credit with a number of mentors who helped set him on a path to the pinnacle of college officiating: Cleotha Wilson, Harold Cooper, Carey Grantham, Charlie Calhoun, George Smith, Charles McElroy, Frank Bluntson … all offering their wisdom and guidance during different stages of Mr. Carson’s athletic and officiating career. Just six years after his MHSAA debut in ’95, he was calling games at the Division III level. By 2003, he was officiating in the SWAC where he’d once played.
“I take a little piece of each of those guys every time I go on the field,” he said. “They had so much integrity and I knew they cared about the spirit of the game. I really can’t say enough about them.”
A Raymond resident with a 30-year career with the Army Corps of Engineeers in Utica, Mr. Carson looks back fondly on his days calling MHSAA games and encourages those interested in officiating school-based sports and activities to give it a try.
“It’s a lot like community service,” he said. “If there were no high school (and middle school) officials, parents wouldn’t be able to go watch their kids participate. It’s a magnificent way to be entrenched in the community. It’s not the same as police officers or firemen, but I look at it as community service. Without officials, there is no State Football Championship or Big House or events like those for the young people and everyone else to enjoy.”
“Having Fulton in the NCAA Championship Football game makes the MHSAA proud,” said Robert Holloway, MHSAA Assistant Director of Athletics. “He’s one of us. It’s an opportunity to tell the next guy that it’s not impossible if you continue to work on your craft daily. I am so proud of him. We worked many baseball games together and you just knew he had the “It Factor” coaches and coordinators talk about that separates the good from the great. Congratulations to him and I won’t miss a play come Monday night.”