When Zach Errett was young, he and his family never went on family vacations.
Instead, they traveled to wrestling tournaments.
Wrestling has been a part of the former Mooresville High School athletic director’s life since he was young: His dad was the coach at Martinsville High School and was a wrestling referee. His mom and sister were pairing masters at tournaments, and when Errett was in middle school, he joined his dad and began to referee.
Now, Errett is headed to referee at his second Olympic Games.
“For athletes, they work their entire life to have that opportunity to wrestle, and it’s much like the referees as well. People will work for years to have that opportunity to go and represent their country,” he said. “It’s a great honor.”
Only about 50 wrestling referees were chosen world-wide in 2016, and only two of those are Americans.
But Errett’s success with refereeing is bittersweet. His dad, Dave Errett, never got the chance to referee at the Olympics, even though it was his dream. Dave missed the cut once, then decided to retire early to give another American a chance to earn one of the coveted positions.
As it so happened, Zach was the one chosen in his place.
“That was difficult for me, working through how close he was to making the Olympics as a referee, and how important it was for him, then watching him come close not only once, but twice…was very difficult,” Zach said.
But for Dave, he’s just happy knowing his son can live out his dreams.
“We’re thrilled he made the first [Olympics], ecstatic he made the second,” Dave said. “It’s unbelievable. His mom and I are so proud.”
Zach has refereed since middle school, when his dad got him started. He wrestled himself, and instead of waiting two hours between matches to wrestle, he decided to help out officiating.
He started the sport when he was 5, and when he started, he didn’t have many wins. He slowly started to have more success, but he didn’t pursue a career past high school. He played football for two years at Butler University, which is when he stopped competing.
“I think the part that I really enjoy most [about wrestling] is you don’t have to be a super great athlete,” Zach said. “If you’re willing to work hard, you can be successful at it…A lot of your success in wrestling is based on what you’re willing to sacrifice to be good.”
Zach has refereed in countries like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, places he’s sure some people have never even heard of. His extensive travel has given him an opportunity to see different parts of the world and learn about different cultures.
“It gives you a much broader view of what’s out there and what’s really important,” Zach said.
But Zach’s refereeing career has given him much more than a chance to travel—he’s formed an extended family.
“Wrestling is such a difficult sport … and you develop a lot of camaraderie with the people you train and practice with,” Zach said. “The wrestling community itself is a very tight community.”
Part of that family is Tom Clark, a Noblesville referee. He’s known Zach’s dad for around 25 years and has worked with both father and son.
“[Zach] is the best referee in the world,” Clark said. “It’s simple … He’s respected by his peers, not only at a national level but international.”
Having two strong referees come from the same family is “very unusual,” Clark said. He said Zach is such a good referee because he’s calm and is a “student of the sport.”
“Being a good referee is similar to being a good wrestler — you have to work at it,” Clark said. “It doesn’t just pop up.”
Kara Berg is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana. to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.