By Jonathan Hodgson
When Nate Harris took the platform at Referees Embracing Faith “REF” Conference 2019 in Mason, Ohio, he did so as a bold step of faith.
A bold step of faith, it was, for the veteran basketball official, who has 14 years officiating experience, including ten years at the NCAA Div. 1 level in several conferences, including the Pac-12 and West Coast Conference.
Harris learned of REF Conference in 2018 when the inaugural conference took place in Allen, TX. He was unable to attend that conference, which was hosted by retired NBA referee Steve Javie, but he made sure that he would be in Ohio for the second annual event in 2019.
“It was important for me to be a part of REF Conference because the Holy Spirit has been working on changing my heart over the past four years,” Said Harris, who has officiated in the previous three NCAA Div. 1 basketball tournaments. “God has placed it on my heart to share my story with the officiating community and I love what “REFCON” is all about! This is an awesome ministry for us as officials of all sports, and something that is needed in our world!” Harris said.
In the months prior to the conference, S.O.S. co-founder Dan DiFolco invited Harris to join the speaking lineup at REF Conference 2019, which included the likes of NFL chaplain LaMorris Crawford, NCAA Div. 1 basketball coordinator of officials J.D. Collins and MLB umpire Ted Barrett among others, including hosts Pat Fraher and Darron George, veteran officials in the NBA and NCAA Div. 1 basketball respectively.
Harris admitted to the assembled gathering of sport officials on the campus of Prasco Laboratories that he battled doubts after committing to speak, “But the Holy Spirit kept tugging at me and saying, ‘What could happen if you don’t?’ Harris said.
And so, he obeyed, and took the platform second in the morning session of the second annual REF Conference and delivered his message entitled ‘The Call for Humility and Love.’
“Anger and pride prevent us from sharing the good news of His gospel,” Harris told the conference. “The key is showing that humility that (says that) we are believers that Jesus is the son of God just as loud as our shirts scream that we are officials,” He said.
A native of the small town of Quincy, Washington who now lives in Spokane, WA with his wife Jess and two children. Harris partnered with fellow NCAA Div. 1 basketball official Justin Shamion to co-found Harris Shamion Officiating Camps for officials training. He is a 2009 graduate of Emerald City Officials Academy, where he has been on staff since 2011.
Throughout his message at REF Conference, Harris reflected on various moments in his life story, both faith and officiating career. Harris fulfilled a dream when he was hired to officiate at the NCAA Div. 1 level at age 25 in 2010. Despite that success, Harris candidly told the crowd that he spent a long period of time as a ‘Jesus fan’ and not a follower.
“I started to notice this change in my heart,” Harris recalled. “I started to actually care how other people felt; about the flight attendant; the person behind the hotel desk; why my partner may have been in a bad mood that night,” he said.
“Everyone has issues and a past, and we all need Jesus,” Harris concluded.
As he looks back on his message, he says that while everybody has unique circumstances and stories, there are commonalities to all of our stories, which make community and events like REF Conference so beneficial.
“We all have a past and are currently going through something. Going through really hard times without God at the center of our lives can make these things very difficult,” Harris says.
A common challenge for sport officials that Harris addressed is how they handle themselves in the midst of turmoil.
“I've seen us take our internal turmoil and lash out at others -myself included- while we travel and I know the holy spirit wants us to do it a different way and be a light in the darkness where he has placed us to live out our faith while working as an official,” Harris reflected.
When asked what he hopes people took away from his message, Harris says its that people remember why we all should carry ourselves with humility and love for one another.
“We as believers need to be examples of Christ’s love, and can do that by simply treating others with respect and carrying ourselves with humility. The same love that Jesus showed when he made the greatest sacrifice of all-time, giving his life for us on the cross,“ Harris concluded.
Reflecting on his experience at REF Conference, Harris had nothing but glowing reviews.
“The entire event was an amazing experience,” Harris said. “The speakers were awesome, the worship was fantastic, but most importantly, it was so neat to be there with other believers in the officiating community. It was truly an honor to be asked to be a small part of such an awesome event!”