The current basketball season is fast coming to a close with March madness in all of its glory about to consume fans across the country. This season has seemed to pass more quickly than most due to limited bad weather and cancellations that normally create scheduling problems. Most officials spend as much or more time travelling to and from games than they do refereeing. High school basketball official's travel many miles usually during the worst weather of the year and on average they have less travel problems than you would imagine. Car trouble and flat tires seldom happen, running out of gas and traffic accidents are few and far between and speeding tickets don't happen often. A few stories do come up on occasion and I will share some with you.
I was scheduled to work a girls' game on a Saturday afternoon at New Philadelphia and while passing through Bellaire was stopped by a backup from a traffic accident. Now running a little late I was "cruising " along Route 9 passing the lake when around the next curve I saw a State Patrol Cruiser and as he passed I saw his lights come on. I pulled over and waited as he turned around and pulled in behind me. I had the window down holding my license out for him and his first question was "Are you in a hurry?" and I replied "Yes, I'm running late to referee a basketball game" and I explained the traffic delay in Bellaire. He wanted to know who was playing and mentioned he had seen a Buckeye Local bus pass earlier. He leaned down and said, "I have one question, are you a good referee or a bad referee"? Thinking as quickly as I could I answered, "That depends on whether your team is winning or losing". He said, "I know that feeling. Be careful". I made it to the game on time.
We were making a trip to Hiland in 1998 for a game against Garaway in late February and this game would determine their league champion. Trouble started at the intersection on US 250 near Urichsville when a part from under the car ahead of us fell in our path and I couldn't avoid it and as we passed through the traffic lights my left rear tire went flat so I pulled to the side of the road. Naturally, it was pouring down rain and as I attempted to contact AAA, Roger Levi started to change the tire. Roger was having trouble with the jack because the running boards I had installed were making it hard to position the jack and I was having trouble explaining to the AAA representative where we were located. They couldn't comprehend Urichsville and asked for a bigger city so I offered New Philadelphia, Ohio which prompted them to transfer me to an operator in Philadelphia, PA and at that point we gave up on AAA. By this time we both looked like we had just climbed out of the river because everything we were wearing was soaked. Finally the tire was replaced but we were still 45 minutes to an hour away and the rain was coming down harder. I called information and got the school number but no one answered, this time I tried to get the number for the police in Berlin and even though I asked for Berlin, Holmes County, I was given the number for Berlin Western Reserve. On my third try I got the number for the Sugarcreek Police who called the Berlin Police who went to the school and gave my number to the AD who called us back. I explained our dilemma and he said the JV officials refused to do the game and they would wait on us to get there. We arrived at 8:30, dried off and got dressed for the game. When we walked into the gym it was still packed and everyone stood and clapped. Both coaches thanked us for the effort we made to get there and we started the game. As usual when these teams play, it was a close well-played game and when we returned to the dressing room we found our rain soaked clothes had been washed and dried.
Then there was the night that one official showed up at the visiting school instead of the home school. Those of you that know Mike Coyne know that he was at the correct location, the other officials, all the coaches, players and fans went to the wrong school.
Sometimes officials don't have to travel very far for a game as happened to me one evening when I was home eating dinner and I received a call from the Shadyside AD, Tom Vichich telling me that only one official showed up for a JV game. I stopped eating, threw on my officiating clothes and got to the school as quickly as I could. We were in the locker room after the game and the Cadiz coach walked in, shook hands with both of us and said it was the best officiated game of the year, even though they lost. He asked where we were from and when I told him I lived in Shadyside, his response was, "No wonder we lost".
Since I have been watching games instead of officiating I have been able to listen to the fans more than I could before and it seems that many fans feel they have a complete knowledge of the rules. There are officiating classes held every year and I take this time to invite anyone to contact me with your name, address, phone number and e-mail address and I will make sure it gets to the appropriate training class instructor in your area so you can become an official. There are many levels to officiating and since many of the current officials are getting up in years we will need new people to fill these vacancies.
The advantages of being a basketball official are more than you would think. You are able to stay in contact with a game you may no longer play. It allows you to exercise in the winter and keep weight off while others are gaining weight. You get paid to work games which allow you to have some extra money. The most important aspect that I take from my years of officiating is the great people you meet and the friendships you maintain even after you are finished officiating. There are many more good people you meet than those you would just as soon never see again.
I learned a valuable lesson about officiating at my first scrimmage game. The game was in Shadyside vs. Warwood and I was working with veteran Jack Prettyman. All through the scrimmage, Coach Fotey from Warwood would complain at Jack on almost every call he made and seem to argue with him about the silliest little things. When the scrimmage ended, Coach Fotey walked up to me and asked if this was my first year. When I told him it was, he shook my hand and said, "Jack Prettyman's the best. Pattern yourself after him and you'll go a long way".