Get to know... World record ref Ray Longden
Published 12:00 am, Friday, July 14, 2017
FAIRFIELD — For Ray Longden, a lifelong Fairfielder, a passion for football led him to officiate over 3,000 games and best his own world record season after season.
The 87-year-old was recognized as officiating more American football games than any other referee by Guinness World Records in spring 2002. At the time his tally was over 2,000 Pop Warner, high school, college and professional football games, but his total continued to swell to well over 3,000. He is now retired from the field, instead rating referees for high school and college officiating groups.
Longden’s officiating career began in 1947 at a game between Fairfield high schools. A Fairfield College Preparatory School graduate and football player, Longden entered Fairfield University’s first class. The new university had no team, but he agreed to help out coaching for his former high school team. When a referee didn’t show up at one game, Longden stepped in and officiated the first of thousands of games.
“Football has to be fun. You have to enjoy it. It’s like any other sport, profession, activity you embark on,” he said.
Shortly after officiating his first game, Longden joined the Connecticut Football Officials Association and began as a referee for Pop Warner and high school games, eventually rising to officiate some professional match ups. He found each level requires a different posture, a more cautioning, lighter tone for younger players becoming harsher as they become older and rise through the sport.
“It is up to the officials to taper justice with mercy predicated on their age,” Longden said.
He sees officiating as a chance to work with kids, helping them learn a sport that promotes physical health and fitness and that teaches teamwork, a skill he called essential and of lifelong value.
“You like it because you’re helping the kids,” Longden said. “You’re teaching the kids how to play a game honestly and fairly.”
As a player himself, Longden recalled a particularly memorable game. It was Fairfield Prep’s first nighttime football game — against St. Basil’s Preparatory School in Stamford — and the match was scoreless with just a couple of minutes left, he said. He remembers zipping down the field with about two minutes left, turning and just catching a 40-yard pass. He crossed the goal line, scoring the 6-point touchdown that won Fairfield Prep the landmark game.
The experience was a “big thrill,” he said.
Longden was also recently honored as a member of Fairfield University’s first graduating class. In honor of its 75th anniversary, the university honored alumni from the inaugural Class of 1951. After graduating, he attended law school, served in the Korean War and returned to Fairfield, where he began commuting into Manhattan to work as an attorney. He retired from law after 67 years.
From growing up in town to his current residency, Longden has seen Fairfield transform. Along with Fairfield County at large, he said, he saw the town go from the home for a handful of commuters to a “bedroom for commuters” as the population has grown.