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Games! We all want as many as we can possibly handle, but when it comes to accepting assignments, you can’t just say yes without thinking it over.

When my phone rings or emails arrive from assigners, my heart starts to pick up its pace. I know that I am going to get to officiate a game, which is what I love to do. However, what if the game is from a school where I know the coach and I have a history? What if I saw that school four times last year? What if I know I am just returning from a long layoff such as a vacation? 

We all know that if we refuse a game from an assigner without good reason, it may be the last time that assigner or AD calls us to ask if we are available for future games. How do we determine if the risk of declining a game is worth the reward of our integrity? We all know good officials that just seem to get that school or coach year after year. The story usually goes that the official penalized that coach for something that may have been handled differently by another official. History has a way of creeping into our heads during games for both parties. I’ve heard coaches say things such as, “You were bad last time we had you,” or, “You miss that call every time I see you.”

On the other hand, I’ve heard officials say things like, “I had this coach last week and I should have penalized him. If I have a hard time again tonight, I won’t be so forgiving.”

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We should all enter every game with a clean slate in our heads. Each game presents a unique opportunity. Just because something happened previously doesn’t mean we should carry that feeling over to the next game. If we can’t separate each game, it’s a good time to call the assigner and say you need to be removed from the game.

Give the assigner a good reason. Most assigners I know and deal with would rather officials be honest and tell them the reason we are asking to be removed. People have conflicts. Maybe the game is a rivalry game between schools and you had a child that attended the school a few years ago. We know we can be objective, but why take the chance that your integrity will be challenged? I have heard coaches and fans say, “That official graduated from the opposing school 30 years ago; no wonder we don’t get any calls.” Perception is reality to fans and coaches.

Many assigners are scheduling two or three years in advance. We get dates but they don’t always tell us the schools we will be officiating. Once those pairings come out, if there is a conflict, address it right away. Let the assigner make the change. Most likely, you will be moved to a different site.

One other area to consider is your mental and physical health. Suppose that you are scheduled to make a huge business presentation on the day after a big game. Will you be able to focus on the importance of the game? If you feel you can, work the game. If not, turn it back. Officials who have mentally checked out are doing no one any good. The player, coaches and fans see it.

We often worry about the political ramifications of refusing or returning an assignment. I believe that if you feel taking the assignment would cause more harm than good, ask to be reassigned or removed. If your reasoning is sound, the assigner will appreciate your integrity.

David Joseph is from Toledo, Ohio, and is a multi-sport official, including high school basketball.

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