will Fried, a basketball official in the Wichita, Kan., area, recently earned a degree in conflict analysis and resolution, which on the surface makes him a perfect candidate for the stripes and whistle.
But Fried, 22, is also autistic, which he agrees provides challenges for his chosen avocation, something he got into by accident.
“I started in 2016 after graduating high school,” he said. “I went to Coach (Morgan) Wootten’s camp (of DeMatha High School fame). I had signed up to coach, but when I went to the meeting I was one of the last ones called, which meant I would be officiating.
“So, I officiated for four weeks there and continued with four years of intramural ball while in college. I learned to trust the process, tried to get comfortable and I found myself getting better each game. I got thrown into tough situations (and) had to trust my instincts.”
Fried worked at his craft — going to high school games and studying how other officials did things.
“I discovered that good communication and trust is so important as an official,” he said.
Fried helped himself by joining Court Club Elite, the basketball officials mentoring program operated by retired NBA official Ed T. Rush. He caught Rush’s eye, who put out an encouraging tweet about Fried.
“Love stories of overcoming odds,” Rush wrote. “Recent stories about Will Fried should inspire those who see the odds against them. … You go Will. RESPECT.”
With that boost, Fried continued to officiate when he moved from Maryland to Kansas to study for his masters degree at Fort Hays State. There, he found a trusted mentor in official and assigner Scott Goodheart.
“He saw how hard working I am,” Fried said.
Fried admits it hasn’t always been easy officiating with autism.
“It’s occasionally tough not to react (when someone gets mad), but I’ve learned how to be patient,” he said. “Trust the process and be calm. I depend on the schools and hope that the coaches and ADs are aware of my disabilities.
“Some great officials have really helped me, but there are some who are just not used to (someone like me) yet. I’ve also had the chance to officiate players with autism, too. It’s unique to see them play and how they work with their teams.”
Fried would like to take officiating to the next level — earning varsity high school assignments and making the leap to college ball.
He takes inspiration from the late Kobe Bryant’s well-known “Mamba Mentality” because he not only wants to help himself, but also aid others with autism who want to officiate.
“I’ve gotten this far because of self-determination and I want others to be able to accomplish what I have done,” Fried said. “I want to push others along, help them achieve greatness, too.”
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