As I walked into the gym of a small parochial school yesterday, for my last game of the season, I spied a little boy shooting hoops towards a little basket that had been lowered to accommodate little ones. I took a seat in the bleachers as we waited for someone to unlock the classroom where we were to change into our uniforms when I asked the boy “where’s your uniform? Aren’t you going to play today?” He stopped, put the ball on his hip and shrugged his shoulders and earnestly replied “I’m only six and a half.” I chuckled and replied “but what if they need you…?” By this time he was dribbling the ball when he patiently stopped playing, retook his ball on hip stance and repeated “I’m only six and a half….” before he added “….I’ll be playing over here” motioning towards the corner of the gym behind the bleachers. Maybe….some day.
I misspoke earlier…they weren’t bleachers…they were chairs brought out from the sancuatary that they had lined up on one side of the gym. It was a small school. Their pep band consisted of 1 tuba, 1 clarinet, 1 oboe, 1 piccolo and one bass drum…and, filled with the Holy Spirit, totally rocked out the TV theme song to Batman (no lying…they were really jamming!) It was a good way to end my season, in the house of God with kind and patient fans, a good crew of fellow officials and a five piece band.
Its exciting in September when you look at your upcoming basketball schedule and most nights are filled up with games. Its not so exciting when its 5 AM on the third Thursday of January, its minus ten degrees outside, you have a ten hour work day ahead of you then an hours drive to some small town where two undefeated team are hosting two teams with lousy records. Sure…the two games consist of eight 8 minute quarters for just a little over an hours worth of officiating…but by the time you figure in quarter breaks and halftimes, time outs, dead ball situations, pregame and postgame and the drive home you’re looking at a 5-6 hour time commitment. It wears on me….even though I love it. I think it wears on the players and coaches too. One of the nicest moments this season came when a team that was on the cusp of winning a conference championship for the first time in 39 years was hosting the worst team in their conference. The dominant team’s coach substituted early and often so that the point spread wouldn’t be too much. Once in awhile the players would trip over each other during rebounding, falling to the floor as the ball went the other way. They’d help each other up, and laugh before jogging down court to rejoin the action. Late in the game I could have sworn that the winning team was letting the subs of the losing team get their own missed shots and go up and score uncontested easy shots in the lane causing their fans, whom have seen a lot of horrible basketball this season, erupt in jubilation. You’d have thought that it was a close game and that their team was on the cusp of winning the conference championship! I’ve worked this winning teams games before….they have plenty of shot blockers to reject those attempts….but I think that they were instructed to “lay off” the other team. I can’t prove it, but I have my suspicions.
I worked mostly small, rural Iowa high schools this season. It’s where my roots lie. Small gyms. Farm kids for the most part. Pep bands and cheerleaders. Bleachers mostly full. The atmosphere is electric when its the only show in town, the gym is packed with several hundred people and two competitive teams are rearing to go. The fans are right on top of you, they let you know what their opinions are. Most nights there are at least two, and as many as five video cameras capturing our game (all I’m saying is that the camera adds five pounds to my figure). I swear that I can tell who’s mother or grandmother is in the stands whenever I hear “GET HER OFF OF HER!!” whenever little Susie decides to pick up her dribble in the backcourt along the sideline during a three-quarter court press and two defenders close down and box Susie in…causing some flailing of arms to ensue (I feel like stopping play, turning to the mother/grandmother and replying “then teach her how to dribble with her left hand then…” but I don’t. Little Susie had better “pass, shoot or call time out” because she’s at “8” on a backcourt count of 10. I have heard this song repeatedly throughout this season. It must be a pep band standard as they even played it when I was in high school thirty years ago. I love it when a pep band nails it.
Here are a few snapshots of the season:
Its time to end. I’m tired. I’m sore. I’m looking forward to laying on the couch and not thinking about where I need to be tomorrow night, who I’m riding with or who’s riding with me. No uniforms to wash, no bag to pack. No Athletic Directors to notify, no worries about the drive time weather or if I can get back home. No more nights of five hours of sleep. I can be just a “couch potato”, but I know that a week of that and I’ll be ready to go again. Baseball starts in late March, but for now I’ll lie low, under a warm blanket.
Thanks for following along this season. God bless and have a great week. R