You probably don’t even notice his name when the credits roll at the end of each Channel 7 newscast each night. But his name has been there for the last 19 years.
Wayne Rundell grew up and still lives in Miami Springs with his wife Bethany and two boys Bradley (10) and Tyler (3) and has been the sports producer at News Seven during that entire time.
But what Wayne Rundell does on weekends during football season is why we’re bringing you this story.
While everyone is gearing up to get their “football fix” in a few weeks, Wayne Rundell is gearing up for another reason.
He’s getting ready for his first weekend road trip in two weeks. Rundell will leave town every weekend after that through November. Not to go root for his favorite team. No, Rundell leaves town because he has spent the last 22 years working his way up the ranks in the world of football officiating.
From what started with a whistle in his mouth in youth football and junior varsity high school in Miami-Dade County way back in 1992 has seen Rundell hone his craft and advance up the pipeline all the way to big-time college football. Namely the Atlantic Coast Conference where he has worked as a field judge since 2011 and this season will be a side judge/field judge.
That’s right, our very own resident of Meadowlark Drive is one of those guys in the striped shirts who, depending on who you’re rooting for and what the call is, you either want to kiss on the cheek or throw to the alligators.
“I don’t know, I guess it’s just something I started horsing around with back in the early ’90s and I just really gravitated to it,” Rundell said over a cool drink at Starbucks on the Circle during a quiet afternoon last week. “I just caught the bug and it’s never stopped.”
Ironically, it was the Hurricane Andrew disaster in ’92 that really gave Rundell the opening he needed.
“After Andrew,. there were a lot of officials who had lost their houses down South and there was all kinds of disruption, so a lot of them couldn’t work that year,” said Rundell. “And on top of that, a lot of the games were during the day because a lot of schools didn’t have lights due to the storm, so because of the fact that I worked at night (Rundell was interning at Channel 4 at the time and working nights) I was available to do some varsity games.”
After a few years of moving up the high school ranks, Rundell started getting invited out to the University of Miami to work the Hurricanes spring practices.
“It was there that you start to get noticed as far as college officials,” said Rundell. “I not only did some UM spring games but went to college camps all over the country to be seen and noticed and learn things. Alberto Riveron, who is now No. 2 in command in the NFL offices, worked high schools in Dade County for 20 years and came out to a few of my scrimmages, would stand behind me and bark in my ear to make sure I was doing it right.”
Soon enough, 2001 to be exact, Rundell’s “networking” paid off when his phone rang and it was the head of officials for the Atlantic 10 on the other end.
Even though he only did three games that year and just five in 2002, and it was a Division 1-AA conference, Rundell had his foot in the NCAA door and he didn’t let it close.
His first game?
“I’ll never forget it,” said Rundell. “Maine at Northeastern on this small little field in Boston. I think maybe there were 4,000 or 5,000 people. The funny thing is looking back, the officiating crew I was with that day, some of them are real superstars today. One of them was Wayne Mackey, who now works in the NFL as a line judge. On the sideline, I was scared to death. They basically said, ‘Don’t throw any flags unless it’s something obvious,’ but to just relax. Yeah, easy for them to say.”
Rundell spent the next several years working his way through the A-10 ranks before another opportunity, the Sun Belt, popped up in 2006 when he got himself placed on the Sun Belt supplemental list.
“When FIU and FAU started playing, they went into Sun Belt,” said Rundell. “The Sun Belt Commissioner came down, looking for officials in the area and he hired probably about a dozen of us on the supplemental list, which means you may work a game or two for him, work the clock, go to the clinic and eventually work your way in.”
In 2008 he was brought in full time to a Sun Belt crew where he would reside for the next three years. Then, in 2010, Rundell got the ultimate plum for an official — a bowl game.
“I worked the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana,” said Rundell. “It was Georgia Tech against Air Force and it was just so much fun. You get treated like total royalty. Your prize for having a good year and grading out well.”
Rundell, who while he didn’t go to school locally (attending Dade Christian through grade and high school), did grow up working at the Miami Springs Recreation Center and “got his first taste” of officiating by umpiring behind home plate for Little League baseball games.
Now with a bowl game under his belt, Rundell’s profile went up another notch. And with that, another phone call.
“I remember it was May 2011 and I got a phone call from Doug Rhoades, supervisor of officials for the ACC,” said Rundell. “He said he was going to be in the Orlando area doing some things and could I up and meet with him. I was like, ‘Are you kidding!’ Heck I would have driven to Alaska to meet with the guy. What an opportunity.
“We sat down, talked for an hour, he asked my about some of my philosophies and a few other things but it was clear he had done his homework. He was a former FBI guy and had already talked to people down here about me, so he knew everything about me. He just wanted to seal the deal in person.”
And the deal was sealed. Rhoades offered Rundell a spot on an ACC crew and, three years later, here we are.
“As soon as I walked out, I was on the phone with my wife and I don’t think my feet ever hit the ground on my drive back home.”
His first year working for an ACC crew resulted in another bowl game, the Las Vegas Bowl between Arizona State and Boise State. But it was the 2012 season where Rundell got the ultimate reward in his mind and something he’ll never forget.
He was picked to do the annual Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.
“No doubt about it, the highlight of my career so far,” said Rundell. “The most amazing experience of my life. I’ve told everybody, whether you’re an official or not, that game has to be on your bucket list. You have to go and just sit in the crowd. You have all the servicemen from both schools, cheering and chanting the entire game, you have the flyover, the pre-game pageantry, the vice president out there for the coin flip, you look up and down the sideline and you have everybody in uniform, covered in medals. It’s just unbelievable.
“You just feel the patriotism and I know it sounds cheesy but it makes you proud to be an American. During the timeouts, I would just sit there and look around because they would be honoring someone who just came home. You just have the chills the whole game and I’m not talking about the cold weather.”
Rundell was then asked the question everybody would love to ask an NCAA official. Do you ever fret over a blown call or wonder during the game if you got it right or not?
“One blown call? Everybody goes through it,” Rundell said matter-of-factly. “There’s not one of us that doesn’t. But the most important thing is that if you do, you have to blow it out of your head right away. You have to have a short memory because you don’t know if that ball is gonna come at you on the very next play and the last thing you want is to have that happen and still be thinking about the previous play.”
As far as balancing his job with the officiating, Rundell has it down to a science.
“Luckily my set schedule is Fridays and Saturdays off, so I’ll fly out late in the afternoon on a Friday and be on a flight home by 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, need to be to work by 3 on Sunday afternoon. It works out quite well and that’s only because I have an incredibly understanding and supportive wife.
“Something like this can break up marriages and thankfully I have a wife (he and Bethany have been married 14 years) that, well she knew going in, before we even got married, had told me, ‘You were doing this long before you knew me and I know how much you love it.’ ”
As far as his next move? The NFL? Rundell grinned. While that’s likely the ultimate dream of anyone putting on a striped shirt, he’s more than content with how he has done to this point.
“Right now, I’m happy where I am,” he said. “I’m going into my fourth year in the league and I’m on a great crew with Jeff Flanagan, the head referee and one of the top ones in the conference. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on a Saturday. NFL? Not at the moment. I’m happy with where I”m at and appreciate where I’m at.”