If you were offered a job where you had to travel, sometimes long and far, got frequently criticized when you performed your duties and had people yelling at you, would you take it? I think most people would say, “No.” But that’s a large part of the job description for sports officials.
I was fortunate as a child to grow up around the game of basketball — playing it and going to all the games my father officiated at the high school and collegiate levels. It was an interesting opportunity to see hundreds of people yell at my father and the rest of the crew for the entire game. I would get angry listening to the ignorance in the stands. “That’s a travel!” “Open your eyes!” “You suck!”
But the favorite line I heard came when I was about 5 years old. I was tagging along to my father’s game and sitting in the stands minding my own business. Out of curiosity, a girl in the stands asked me why I was sitting alone. I’m sure I answered, “Well, I’m here watching my dad.” Then she asked, “Well, who’s your dad?” I answered, “The ref,” as I pointed with a big smile toward my father on the court. It wasn’t 10 minutes after our short conversation that my father had a whistle for a foul. The kind college-aged girl I just spoke with jumped out of her seat and yelled, “That call was so bad even your son thinks you suck!”
I turned red in the face but remained silent, as I was taught to never engage with fans. I never forgot that moment. I’m sure neither of us will forget it, either. This is what officials deal with. Who would want that?
After 13 years of watching officials be scrutinized to the highest degree, what made me become an official? That’s easy. I wouldn’t trade this avocation for the world; it’s not often you get paid to do what you love. I became an official because I love the game of basketball, and enjoy knowing the rules and the proper application of those rules.
Officiating is a great way to follow in your father’s footsteps
Officiating was also a great way for me to follow in my father’s footsteps. I had (and still have) amazing mentors who taught me the rules of the game. The older generation of officials was (and still is) willing to help me become a good official. I got my IAABO (International Association of Approved Basketball Officials) patch at 18 years old and started my collegiate career last year, at 21. If it wasn’t for those mentors, including my dad, I’m sure I would have been skeptical of becoming an official.
I’m an exception to the rule where I’m from, the little, rural state of Vermont, where 18-year-old kids aren’t begging to get a patch and work high school games. We are just like most other places of the country — we need refs! From third- and fourth-grade basketball straight through varsity, we are short-handed. I ask all my buddies who either played basketball or just love the game why they don’t officiate. The No. 1 answer I hear is, “Are you kidding? I don’t want to get screamed at all night.”
I don’t blame them one bit. Some nights you can have a great game and still get yelled at until the final buzzer. How do we combat this issue? We still desperately need officials and I don’t see fans applauding our travel call against their team anytime soon. We need to become the mentors that I have been fortunate enough to have. We need to go to the youth basketball games and invest a little of our time in teaching the 15-year-old kids proper mechanics, positioning and call selection. Once they know how to officiate the game and grow a little confidence, then they can start enjoying being an official.
I have made so many friends through officiating that without this common avocation we would have never met. It’s important to remember, to teach and to practice this is about more than just the game. We are a family, we have each other’s backs and we have a lot of fun together. That is the side of things that someone looking to become an official needs to see. It makes getting yelled at for 40 minutes not so brutal.
I challenge readers to find someone who is interested in officiating. Whether at a youth league game, a middle school game or an AAU tournament, find people who are interested but on the fence. Introduce them to what it’s really like to be a ref. Introduce them to the family that we have and take them under your wing — mentor them.
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