…everyone has one.

Such was my thinking after my first varsity basketball game on December 10th. The two other officials that I worked with that night literally nailed me with their well-intentioned “pointers” on how to do things more like they did. During time-outs they’d saunter over to me and whisper something like “on that last call of yours, your hand was ‘fisted’ for a foul when it should have been an open hand for a violation…just letting you know..” (this makes absolutely no sense to the avid readers of RICH RIPLEY, but to basketball referees…there is a difference). Long story short, I started doubting my abilities during the game. I thought “Holy crap!! I’ve been around so many people telling me that I was doing well then these guys don’t know me and now I’m a regular idiot!!” I gave myself a quick pep talk and finished the game as I had started….doing it my way. Once in the locker room I apologized to the guys for messing up their system of doing things and they both apologized for being critical. One thing that I didn’t do was to point out their mistakes to them, which there were a few, but they brought them up themselves during our post game talk. It was a fairly uneventful night that left me thinking that I did “okay” but could do much better the next time out. I filed away my partners advice that night under “wait and see.”

My next time out was two days later and I was working with a couplea guys that I had worked with this past summer, and we did good together. The following night we worked together again and did great…working like a well oiled machine. It struck me then that many of my games this year will be like this as most nights I’ll be with two total strangers trying to work together as a unit of three officials applying the rules of basketball to a group of ten players running up and down a court with several hundred people watching and cheering them on and jeering our calls. Opinions…like belly buttons….

Here’s some quick notes that I took these past few weeks from the games that I did:
1…Most officials are meticulous packers. They’ll pack not only their uniform but a back up uniform “just in case”. I know one guy who packs two of everything…shoes, sox, etc, but four shirts. Go figure.
2…Officials wear more black spandex under their uniforms than you’d ever guess.
3…My pregame meal usually consists of a McDonald’s hamburger, medium fry and Coke. Hasn’t. Failed. Me. Yet.
4…We change into our uniforms wherever there’s room. Coaches office. Officials locker room. History classroom.
5…Sometimes we get to shower after the games, sometimes not. When I do get to shower after the game there’s a good chance that there’s no hot water. Maybe the pipe that leads to the shower head passes somewhere within ten feet of a hot water heater…but providing hot water to the officials is low priority stuff is what I’m finding out.
6…High school kids crack me up. To the cheerleader in the pep band thumping out on her bass guitar Bachman Turner Overdrives “Takin’ Care of business” to the players being introduced and doing their individual performances as their names are announced.
7…The playing of the National Anthem gives me a lump in my throat, as we stand beside one another with our hands over our hearts.
8…One crew will pregame methodically, going over probable scenarios whereas another crew will tell me “Rich…we don’t call stupid stuff…so don’t call stupid stuff.” Other guys will end with “remember…have fun.” I like them both.
9…Some schools treat you well…others barely acknowledge that you’re there.
10…We’re rarely reimbursed for mileage. I drove 80 miles round trip. Nada. My partners that night who drove an hour and a half one way…zilch.

I’ll finish with this. It was during my first week of officiating varsity basketball. Things were going well, my two partners and I were working well together and the Athletic Director came into our locker room prior to the boys game and told us that he’d have pulled pork sandwiches and bottles of water waiting for us after the game. Well…the visiting team, who had been down by thirteen points at halftime, came back and took the lead with two minutes left to go in the game. Rival student sections belted out chants across the court at each other, cheerleaders got the crowd to its feet during a time out. Tim, our referee that night, gathered us at half court and said “don’t fear the call, want to make the call” which put us all on the same page mentally (as if we weren’t there already). We were ready to call anything if it came our way. What came my way in that final two minutes was a tipped pass that went off of the offensive players finger tip and I blew it dead and with some authority bellowed “blue” and pointed down court. The place erupted (I couldn’t tell you if it was a good or bad reaction….I just make the call and we go with it…but it was a good call). The game ended with the visitors winning a close game and us running off the court. Once in the locker room we did our post game, showered and departed….our pulled pork sandwiches and water never materialized. We walked together to our trucks in the parking lot…we always walk together…bad things can happen to lone officials in parking lots.

After half an hour of driving my stomach growls and the thought of the once promised but never delivered pull pork sandwich weighs upon my empty stomach. Fifteen minutes later I’m pulling away from a McDonald’s after inhaling a McRib sandwich which calms the riot act that was coming from my gut. I go over in my mind what, if anything, I could have done differently during tonight’s games to be a better official. It’s a very short list, barely worth thinking, but self-analysis is a good thing, done with a goal in mind. I’m getting closer to where I want to be. My mind begins to drift abit as I calm down from the game…the headlights illuminate the blacktop, white with crushed road salt, as it shoots under me. I look out at the rolling Iowa countryside covered in snow as the moon and stars fill the sky and make a beautiful nightscape. The defroster in my truck works in vain as the frost creeps along the top edge of the passenger window, reminding me of the single digit temperatures outside. Its quiet. Its beautiful. I’m happy….but that’s just my opinion.

May you and yours have a happy, healthy and hope filled Christmas.
Peace.
R

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