Opportunity of a lifetime

James Reilly was impressed. He was standing on the field in a packed stadium in Denver, watching lacrosse players from another country bellow out their national anthem.

“They’re belting it out before the game,” Reilly, the former Bishop Guertin High School lacrosse coach who has now made officiating his place in the game. “The pride – that was pretty cool to see that.”

Reilly, a Nashua High School alum who now works in education in Wolfeboro, officiated at one of the highest levels a couple of weeks ago at the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships held at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., just outside of Denver. He was joined by another local official, Tim McCaffrey of Amherst, and the pair enjoyed two weeks they won’t forget.

“It was a big sacrifice being away for two weeks,” said McCaffrey, who works in software sales. “But it was great just being immersed in the sport of lacrosse.

Both were chosen via tryout and experience. Reilly, who coached the Cardinals about 10 years ago, qualified for the highest level of the World Games, the prestigious Blue Division. That included the competing teams from the U.S., Canada, Australia, England, Japan, and the Iriquois tribe.

McCaffrey, who was injured in the tryouts held last fall but had the resume to get a spot just the same, officiated some of the lower divisions, which included countries such as Germany, Latvia, Italy, Scotland, Argentina, etc. He has officiated at the high school and collegiate levels and also works the pro level, doing Boston Cannons games.

He was so humbled and thrilled to be at the World Games that right before the start of one of the games he called his high school coach from Billerica, Mass., Steve Connelly.

“I just wanted to thank him for getting me involved in the sport,” the 51-year-old McCaffrey said. “I was touched. Until you’re there, you don’t know. We’re patriotic and we love our country, but it was amazing to see the national pride from the other countries. It was a lot of fun. These kids (most of the players were in their 20s) have a lot of pride in their programs.”

Reilly said the best officiating job is the one that’s not noticed.

“You want to manage the game, that’s your job,” he said. “I went out there to blow some whistles, throw some flags, and take it all in. I wasn’t saying that I wanted to officiate on the last day. But I was pleased.”

That’s because he did the Iriquois vs. Canada semifinal, which Canada won. The Canadians won the whole thing, topping the U.S in the finals.

“I’ve always said the higher the level, the easier it is to officiate,” Reilly said. “And as a former player, former coach, the anticipation helps working the game.”

The pair made a lot of friends and lifelong contacts during the experience.

“I roomed with two Australians,” McCaffrey said, “and they said I had the accent.”

What’s next? Reilly, 35, will do his share of college games next spring, and wants to officiate big games in the postseason.

“I’d like the challenge of a higher level of college,” he said. “I’d love to be officiating the Final Four of Division I, II or III, it doesn’t matter.”

He won’t be able to do the World Games again; once you do the Blue Division, that’s a one-time deal as they try to change the officials every four years. McCaffrey, though, has a chance to try to move up in four years, if he wants to.

“I may,” he said. “It’s four years away. My family will have to give me permission for being away four weeks.”

But the summer of 2014 will be marked as a special experience for both men.