A few thoughts from this past season of officiating basketball…
- The season had just started when I had a bad night, it came out of nowhere. Nothing was out of the ordinary in the game, but I made a bad call and got totally reamed by the coach. I doubled my nights problems by making a second bad call early in the second half. “Holy sh*t!!” is what I was thinking…TWO BAD calls in one game?! I rarely have any, much less two. I was having the worst night in my career and couldn’t wait to get off of the court, and it was only two calls. Let me preface that by saying that the calls weren’t game-changing per say…every call affects the game but for me….it was a devastating bad night. How did I make those calls? Why did I make those calls? What was going through my head? I’ve worked hundreds and hundreds of games…why was this happening?! What was different on this night that I’d kick two calls when I rarely, rarely have any calls that I truly regret putting a whistle on? It was a Tuesday night and I didn’t sleep but a few hours that night…like maybe three or four. The next night wasn’t much better. By Thursday I was so pissed off at myself that I couldn’t wait to get back out there on the court and prove to myself and my crew that Tuesday nights game was just a fluke, an anomaly…a minor blip on the radar of my young career. An athlete can have an off night and its exactly that…an off-night that their shots don’t fall, they can’t dribble the ball nor rebound, their passes sail into the bleachers. They catch a break from the crowd and coaches. The coaches can have bad nights with the way that they prepared their teams for the game, and when the other team blows them out by thirty points it was because the other team was better that night…but when a referee has a bad night…dear God help him/her….they’re going to hear it from the student section, the parents, the fans, the coaches and their bench and last but not least…his/her crew in the locker room and the following days. Officials are to be perfect. As a crew we thoroughly went through that game the next day, spending almost twenty-four hours critiquing what went wrong. As a crew…it was our worst night…ever. After beating ourselves up for a day we put it aside and went out and had a great game our next night out. I doubt that anyone else knows just how seriously that we take the game, except for other officials. It keeps us awake at night wondering if we did our best. I thank God that Joel and Dan were so patient with me during that week. I was a basket-case.
- There are such light moments in sports that if you just stop and look around its beautiful. I worked over seventy school games this season. From middle school seventh-graders to varsity boys 4A games where the kids dunk and are Division I recruits. Each game has its challenges and rewards. I was sitting in the bleachers putting on my shoes during a C game for eighth grade girls. C games are the least athletic kids playing and hence…they get the gym teacher to officiate the game. During warm ups there were toddlers walking on the floor as their big sisters took turns shooting free throws. Gangly-legged, awkward girls trying to practice lay-ups without traveling with the ball and not having much luck but totally having a blast. Players looking up into the bleachers expectantly, then upon seeing “Mom” or “Grandpa” breaking into a big smile and waving at them before returning to warming up. Its seeing someone who isn’t a ball-hog throw the ball to their opponent because they didn’t know what else to do with it and the crowd roaring with laughter at the folly. It’s kids who apologize and help the other player up after they knock them down. Its the subs sitting deep on the end of the bench…eating tortillas slathered in nacho cheese sauce when the coach calls them to play and they tell their teammates to “make sure Dakota doesn’t eat these..” as she jogs straight onto the court without reporting to the scorers table. Light moments, warm thoughts…I chuckle through my whistle.
- Technical fouls…I rarely give any, I just don’t. The game is about the game and players, not me and the coach. Issuing a technical to a coach stops the game and makes it about something that he/she did that I now have to stop and address. I was having a great season only issuing one technical foul to a kid who dropped the F-bomb fairly loud. It was an easy call. Then last week I issued three T’s in less than twenty-four hours, tossing one coach (I whacked him twice within about fifteen seconds…something that I regret doing). Don’t get me wrong…he earned them and the suspension that’s required, but for me to let him get under my skin when he bellowed “DON’T PENALIZE ME FOR YOUR SCREW UP!!” was enough to really make me angry. I take this vocation very seriously, always have…and he got to me. I can’t let that happen again.
- Last season I earned a post-season tournament game, which doesn’t happen very often for a third year official. I was honored and hoped that I’d earn that honor again this season, and maybe get TWO (hey…a guy can dream…). Well…I was lucky enough to earn….(wait for it….)…three post-season tournament games. One girls semi-final regional and two boys quarter-final district games. It’s validation of me doing well in this thing that I love. Blessed to be on a great crew and blessed to get recognition. My mentors taught me very well.
“Patience is the art of concealing your impatience” Guy Kawasaki.
- So yeah…mid-season we had a game where the intensity was very high. The coaches were loud, the gym-full crowd was rudely opinionated (I seriously doubt that any one of them had read the 2015-16 NFHS basketball rule book nor its follow up case play book…either of which is a sure-fire page turner). We heard several personal attacks on us as officials. Regardless, we had a game that as a crew…we walked away scratching our heads. We didn’t feel that we had a good game as a crew, not nearly as bad as earlier…just not our normal kick-ass game. My officiating boss e-mailed me later that same week, a friend of his who’s a college official was at the game and wanted to pass on some of his notes. It went like this….”you’re good, but to be great and work deep into the post season you need to be more patient. Wait half a second with your whistle and then get the call.” My boss concurred. I couldn’t disagree. I’m as impatient as they come. I have to work fast at my career, its required. I eat fast, run fast, talk fast. I’m fast, period….and now to get better and keep myself out of trouble on the court….I need to wait HALF A SECOND to blow my whistle (if needed) to make a call. It’s been a struggle. The average person thinks “half a second is nothing!! Just wait.” The game moves so fast. I’m a work in progress is all that I’ll say. I want too, believe me.
- My season ends quietly this afternoon at an 8th grade boys game held in a little town twenty minutes away. Its an anti-climatic end to a wonderfully exciting and fun season. Two nights ago I was working a game where there was a dunk on a steal in a big school gym that had several hundred vocal fans in it. Today…I go back to where I came from…small town Iowa. The game is important to the players, coaches, parents, relatives and now….me. I want to end this season with a flourish. I won’t be banging out calls like its the seventh game of the NBA Finals…but I’ll be ready….bet your ass I will.
The hardest part of my basketball officiating season is…the off-season. I’ll take a few days off then head into the gym for weights, stretching and running. I’ll read the baseball rules, but its not the same. My true love is waiting for me December 6th at center court. Tip time 6PM. Good seats still available. I. CAN’T. WAIT!!