I was scheduled to ref a soccer game last night in Madison and, as always, I checked the weather before the game. It looked like there was going to be some rain in the first half, and then the potential for thunderstorms in the second. Refs are always trained that if they see any lightning, no matter how far away it is, to stop the game immediately. We are supposed to send everyone to their cars and wait for 20 minutes without any more lightning before restarting the game.
I started the game at 530 and heard a few rumbles of thunder in the far distance, but did not see any lightning. We played the entire first half, and I still had not seen any lightning. During halftime, there was a quick burst of heavy rain and the skies got darker. Still no lightning.
Twelve minutes into the second half, out of nowhere, BAM!!! There was a flash of light, with a huge clap of thunder seemingly simultaneously. A parent on the sideline fell to the ground and his umbrella that had been planted into the ground flew away from him. Three players fell to the ground, shocked either by the lightning or just the loud bang. My assistant referee, who was about 10 yards from the guy who was hit, felt the electricity and I felt buzzed for over an hour.
Everyone sprinted to their cars. The players slowly got up and seemed to be ok. The guy who’s umbrella was hit was laying on the ground for a few seconds, and was helped up and seemed ok. We cancelled the game and made sure that everyone was off the field as quickly as possible. We were incredibly lucky and I am happy that nobody was seriously hurt.
I have never been in a situation like that where the first bolt of lightning is right on top of us. Normally there is some warning, but this time there was not. I have stopped many games in my almost 12 years of reffing after seeing lightning in the distance, only to be called a wimp or worse.
As I was leaving the soccer park, I saw another game still being played. I couldn’t believe it. I drove over, laid on the horn and told them that a guy had been hit near us and that “this was stupid and that they needed to get these people out of there.” They stopped and got everyone to their cars.
If you are ever in a situation like this, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and get out of the situation. Many people have a macho attitude about lightning and ridicule people who go inside after seeing the first bolt. You can be hit by lightning up to 30 miles away from a storm: If you can see lightning, you can be hit. Its better to be safe than sorry. Get inside and stay safe.
I’ll leave you with a video that should be required viewing for all refs, coaches and parents of youth athletes. It was a professional soccer match in Africa where two players died as a result of a lightning strike. Its in German, but you can see the flash and the aftermath.