It’s been a long, cold winter. I’m tired. My body aches for rest. It’s been a basketball season of goals set and goals met. A season of realized satisfaction in so many ways, some expected, some unexpected and in some heartwarmingly wonderful ways. I grew as a basketball official and am the better for it.
Throughout the season I’d have something happen during the course of a game and while interesting it wasn’t something that I’d have the time to write about at that moment or maybe it was just something notable and not “whole blog-worthy.” The following are some of those “notables” and experiences.
• I had recently worked a varsity girl’s game. Their coach was a short, heavyset, bellicose man. He was a nice guy prior to the game but once the game was going he barked constantly about the game and our efforts (some coaches are like this…always barking…literally, barking). His team won and moved up into the rankings of the “elite” teams of our state. The following week we were working a game in which his team played against another team. His ranked team was so much better than the overmatched squad that they were playing against it wasn’t a close game, at all. There was a forty point spread at halftime. Our crew chief, Fred, approached the fiery coach at halftime in the hallway outside of our respective locker rooms. Fred explained that the losing team only had one good player and that she had four fouls (the player is disqualified upon earning their fifth foul) and that we (as an officiating crew) wouldn’t call the losing team for minor infractions in the second half since they were (God bless them) so bad at basketball. The normally argumentative coach replied “I understand. Don’t let that girl foul out.” Now some would argue that the coach didn’t have anything to gain by arguing with our decision and that he was winning by forty points but I thought that he showed mercy towards an opponent who didn’t ask for it nor was he going to gain any good publicity out of it. Well played coach. Well played.
• Early in December I had a chance to fill-in with a varsity crew at a school that was very close to the area of Iowa that I grew up in. As happens with most of my assignments there is a freshman game being played as I arrive. I head to the locker room to get my uniform on and pre-game with my crew of that night. After the freshman ended those officials came into our locker room to change and head home. Introductions and handshakes were exchanged (as well as a few quick jokes and stories). I recognized one of the officials last names and asked if he was related to the “Deerberg’s of Bennett” (where I grew up and went to school). His face brightened and over the course of the next couple of minutes we figured out that his second cousin is a girl (Lonna) that I had graduated from high school with and that he and she work for that school district. Small world…kind of. Forty-five minutes later I’m out on the basketball court working a game when, during a time out, I hear my name being called from the bleachers. I usually don’t get called out by name from the bleachers (it’s usually something a little more ‘colorful’) but I looked over and saw that earlier basketball referee from my hometown, standing up and pointing to his cell phone and yelling to me “…it’s Lonna! She says “HI!!” I find that story funny when I wonder how that conversation went when Rob called Lonna. “Hey…Lonna. Rob here…you’re not gonna believe this….but do you remember a kid from your class…” Small town Iowa.
• I was working a different game in which, for whatever reason, the defender decided to guard his opponent…backwards. Perfect guarding stance…though his butt-faced his opponent and he looked over his shoulder. BUTT-ASS FACING, BACKWARDS. The fact that he was doing a really, really good job of blocking the path of the dribbler had the home team bench explode with “HE CAN’T DO THAT!! THAT’S ILLEGAL!!” Of course I was the closest official and I witnessed this weird action happening right in front of me. (Honestly, my mind was racing through the 300 plus pages of basketball rules and case plays that I had read through twice every fall prior to the season…in my head as Mister Backwards inhibited the home team’s guard’s progress to the frontcourt.) Eventually the defender turned himself around. After reviewing the play with my crew at halftime, I approached the home teams coach and said this “coach…I know that you had a concern with the legality of the defender guarding your point guard backwards. As a crew we’ve discussed it and found that as long as there’s no contact there is NO foul and that it’s not illegal. In fact we think that you should encourage their entire team to guard your team this way in the second half and see what happens.” The coach smiled and kind of acknowledged that it was a weird play, of which we’ll probably never see again.
• Honesty…usually the best policy. Late in a blow-out game I was running beside a fast break. The defender had set up to take a charge and the dribbler crashed into him. They both went to the floor in a heap and the ball went back to the defenders team in a heartbeat. I missed calling a charging foul. It’s one of the quickest fast action fouls with a set of requirements for the defender to abide by. Fast action, rigid set of rules, not many kids have the ability to “take them” and I TOTALLY MISSED CALLING THAT ONE. I felt bad for the defender. During the next dead ball as I was walking past his coach I bent down low so that I could talk to him. “Coach…your player took a great charge down there and I missed it. I’m sorry. He really did take a good charge.” The coach looked up, smiled and replied “I wondered why he didn’t get that call.” I said “because I blew it.” After the game, after the players went through the line and shook each other’s hands I found number 35 and told him that he did, in fact, take a good charge. He laughed and said that he thought that he did too. I’ll know better next time.
• One player was talking to me throughout the game about how the other team was doing illegal things, and so on and so forth. Finally I told him “Yeah…that might be happening but I haven’t seen it yet. What I have seen is you and your teammates grab your opponent’s jerseys as they cut through the lane.” The kid, towering over me, paused then a sly smile crossed his face as he replied “yeah…we do that.” I love talking to the kids, they make it fun. (and their jersey pulling was so infrequent that I didn’t call it…but I might next time)
• Sometimes during the team warm ups I’ll see some little kids sitting with their parents. Occasionally I’ll ask them “Why aren’t you playing? Where’s your uniform?” One little guy (all of five or six years old) looked up at me, pointed to the court and replied “I’ll be out there in ten years.” I laughed and told him “I don’t think that I’ll be here to keep up with you then.” That kid has at least one goal in mind, besides the Laffy Taffy and popcorn that he was eating at the time.
• My beltless britches. Once a concern of mine, aren’t any longer. My wife says that I “totally rock in them”.
• Late night after late night of getting home from a doubleheader at 10:30 or 11 then packing my ref bag again, eating supper, getting into bed at 11:30 then getting up at 5 AM for a ten hour work day before going to another game has me drinking Mountain Dew before games. I don’t normally drink that “high sugar, high caffeine” stuff but its effect on me is like spinach is for Popeye. I gotta be sharp for the game, at its beginning…though I know of nothing better than eight hours of uninterrupted of sleep. I need to find a happy medium on my game assignments. Working four and five nights a week at games and one night at the store makes me tired.
As I drove home recently, through the subzero darkness of yet another pitch black winter night I sat in chilly silence of a forty-five minute drive…thankful that the games went well and that no one was injured. Later on I crawled into bed, it cold on my side, making my tired legs, sore knees and feet ache even more. I slid up and spooned Connie…her warmth making my aches…ache less and warm my soul. Hazy warm slumber drifts over and envelopes me. I won’t be awake much longer. I thank God that I’m home. Thank God that I only have three more games. It’s been a long, cold winter. I’m tired….