Behind the whistle: Michael Angell, a former boys soccer player at West Forsyth, has remained in the sport with a love of officiating

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

Michael Angell is a former goalkeeper on the West Forsyth boys soccer team.  

However, he was beset with a number of injuries and had to give up playing soccer but he wanted to remain in the sport. So, at the age of 14 he started officiating.  

That’s paid huge dividends for Angell, who graduated from West Forsyth in 2022, even after just finishing his second year of college at North Carolina.  

“I was a goalkeeper for West during the COVID mess. Unfortunately, played with injuries,” he said. “You know, it was one of those things where I think officiating is what really allowed me to give back to the game. A lot of the issues that I had with injuries unfortunately took out of being able to be a massive part of the team.” 

Angell was willing to do what whatever it took to be a part of the team. 

“I would always come on the sidelines,” he said. “I would always sit with — I helped train during the COVID year. I would always be there in training. But it also pushed me to maybe see a different aspect of soccer such to the effect of officiating because it allowed me to still be a part of that match. 

“Even a game (this past Saturday) I officiated people who played at West just a year or two ago. So, I’m still seeing some of the same faces although it’s just in a different capacity now.” 

It all came down to his chronic injuries. 

“I started with injuries almost back to seventh grade,” Angell said. “So, it was kind of in the 14-, 13-year-old. I’ve broken my leg multiple times. I had a very rare proximal tibia fracture, wheelchair bound. But I always tried to bounce back, always tried to come back into soccer.” 

It continued into high school.  

“My kind of pivotal climax year was sophomore year at West when we had an amazing season. Unfortunately, did not clinch the top spot (in the Central Piedmont 4-A) from Reynolds,” Angell said. “But that was kind of the climax year for me. So, unfortunately, two surgeries and a few other injuries kind of pulled me out of the front line.”  

That didn’t hold him back. 

“I came back into it some my junior year. Again, with COVID, it kind of helped that we had that secondary spring season,” Angell said. “It gave me some time to kind of rehabilitate. But I kind of took more of the managerial and helping out with the younger players and kind of getting them ready where as I looked for a different aspect.” 

As a player, Angell always played goalkeeper. 

“I started goalkeeper when I was rec even though we never really had positions,” he said. “I just kind of always slotted myself in there. I was always tall. I’ve just enjoyed being in the vacuum and talking with people because communication is one of my key things.” 

Many of his myriad injuries came from have a quick growth spurt. 

“I grew quickly and unfortunately didn’t put on enough muscle masses as quickly as I probably needed to,” Angell said. “And it, a lot of it was rare very odd things that would happen – getting hurt in practice where I broke my ankle.” 

Although he was down, he picked himself back up. 

“I always told myself there were other avenues to do similar situations,” Angell said. “So, even when I wasn’t able to be a part of the team to the fullest and the part that I really wanted to it was hard during COVID because I kind of found that team as my bond.  

“I always tried to search out, you know, how could I still remain intact and build the part of myself with them. So, whether it was just scootering myself, taking crutches out to the field, just to be a part of them. It was always a part of just being there as a West Forsyth family even though I couldn’t step in the goal, whether it was just helping out the other goalies, give them high-fives after the game. I always still wanted to maintain that family even though I kind of had to kind of mold where I was and placement because of the injury aspect.” 

Just before his senior season at West Forsyth Angell had his second major surgery and was not able to be with the team much that season in any capacity.  

“In all honesty if I didn’t have something like officiating to kind of keep myself tied to, I think soccer probably would’ve taken a major back road at that point,” he said. “It was one of those things where mental health-wise it’s hard to get out there and say, yes, I’m part of the team because all I wanted to do was get between the posts and play.” 

That caused Angell to be more observant of soccer. 

“Some of that has helped me today. I’ve been trying to go to med school and I’m a double major in chemistry and biology,” Angell said. “But it’s kind of that opportunity where I told myself, ‘Hey, I can be more observationist and help the team in that different aspect.’ It’s also taught me to be more observationist in my daily life, whether it’s recognizing certain areas of expertise in the medicine field. I also work as an EMT. My observation skills climaxed from being sidelined because, again, I had to build a different strength to help out the team.” 

Angell decided to officiate when he was 14.  

“That’s when immediately as I turned 14 on my birthday that’s when you can sign up for North Carolina,” he said. “And so, I started pretty much as soon as I could, built through the ranks. And I started with high school while I was in high school my sophomore year. And then I started in college, doing college matches my senior year. And I’ve done college ever since.” 

He’s even expanded past the college level. 

“Currently I also officiate in kind of the lower levels of the USL,” Angell said. “But it’s been an opportunity where currently I work as an NCAA DI AR (assistant referee). And so, I’ve kind of worked my way through the ranks. But it has taken years of time and kind molding myself into looking at the field a little differently just like I did on the sideline at West.” 

When he officiated games while he was at West Forsyth he couldn’t officiate West Forsyth games or public-school games in Forsyth County. 

“I tended to do a lot those kind of outside-range schools. So, Davie, kind of Davie County, Oak Grove, some of those,” Angell said. “I would do a lot of the Christian schools, so Calvary, all the ones that are NCISAA.” 

He’s not just been an AR. 

“We kind start as an assistant referee when you’re kind of learning the ropes of a different league,” Angell said. “Currently, where I am in my stage of officiating, I flip-flop although I do prefer to referee. But I’m kind of in an area where it’s about 50-50. And that’s how it usually is.” 

Even with a busy schedule with classes when college is in session at North Carolina he still finds the time to officiate high school and college games. 

“So, the nice thing about officiating is that it’s a more contract-based thing,” Angell said. “So, I have six or seven systems that I work through. And we can do is we set times when, ‘Hey, I’m available. Hey, I’m not available.’ And so, it gives us a range where we, where assigners can say, ‘Hey, you know, you have a six-hour time frame that you haven’t blocked off. I’m going to go ahead and five you a game.’ It allows us to kind of create our own schedule.” 

He does high school games in the Raleigh area since he’s living in Chapel Hill. He’s done college games in Virginia and Tennessee. He also does U.S. Soccer certified officiating – MLS Next with Triangle United and Wake FC. He officiates USL2 and USL Academy. 

“It’s kind of your lower two tiers of the USL, but it’s the birth into getting into pre-professional,” Angell said. “That is my aspiration and it always has since I started officiating. Obviously, I am also taking the track of in officiating it tends to be hard to make a living salary. Pro officials are starting to get that.” 

Angell is a student at an ACC school, but he’s mostly officiating college games in Colonial Athletic Association, the Atlantic 10, as well as Division II games.  

“Most of the ACC will be out of reach for me for a very long time, if not at least UNC for the rest of my career,” he said.  

Angell will be 21 on July 8, so although young, he’s quickly climbing the ladder in officiating.  

“Obviously, about any official would to just do professional officiating and be able to get on the FIFA scale and do all that,” he said. “And that has always been a dream of mine that when I turn on the television and see officials like Tori Penso and her husband Chris and all these FIFA officials that I would to be in that shoe and be on the field with the whistle. But I also know that it can be a long time coming and working through the ranks.” 

Angell is set to graduate from North Carolina in 2026, then he hopes to attend a medical school.  

“As much as I’ve always kind of been afraid of locking myself into one single thing, as I’ve learned with officiating and with anything with playing soccer as a goalkeeper, it’s that communication and awareness can open up many different doors. I have officiated across the United States. I officiated in Paris one summer.  

“And so, even though I might change location or move somewhere else, med school can be hard to get into anywhere. Sometimes you have to choose a school and not worry about the area. But you make so many connections to the point that officiating is creating a web of people, not just for soccer, but just from area contacts.”  

That might serve him well when he chooses a med school. 

“I have contacts in Boston that if I moved up there and went to school I could still officiate,” Angell said. “I have the ability to officiate anywhere because it’s a job about people and not a job about a singular space.” 

One other thing. His physical issues are a thing of the past, saying physically where he should’ve been at West Forsyth. But time will be an issue for him in med school. 

“One of the things that I’ve always started to work on and realize is that creating physical activity and allowing kind of that roundedness, especially for med students, is pivotal to both being academically wellful, but also being physically wellful. So, officiating me, because it is primarily cardio-based, it has allowed me to kind of change the way that work myself physically.” 

His soccer career as a player might be over, but credits the sport with so much. 

“It has built my entire family and one that’ll have forever,” he said. “It has built a family that I still connect with when I was in middle-school. It’s built my West Forsyth family. It built a family to where you’d go in the lunch room and see people that I played soccer with and just sit with them. Everything in that communication aspect was always there in soccer.  

“It’s built a network of officials that I can text and say, ‘Hey, I had a rough game. Can we chat about it?’ It’s always given me some area where I can have an entire group and stronghold behind me beyond just kicking a ball on the field.” 

Soccer officiating has also given him a new lease on life after being depressed from all the injuries. 

“Having that amount of injuries and then finding that officiating was a viable option beyond just playing, it gave me an ability to say, and kind of take the step back and say that not everything has to be a linear path,” Angell said. “…There’s the old cliche about the two paths of travel then the fork in the road.  

“And even though I always thought that I had to take one single path. Like I always had to go left. And sometimes taking the other path and going right can really kind of give yourself maybe a whole new lake of possibility.”