MAN DOWN!!!

So a buddy of mine was running down the basketball court the other night and “BAM!!” goes down like a sack a potato’s with a torn quad.  Season over.  Surgery “check”.  Rehab started.  Its a shame whenever anyone gets hurt, especially when its going to keep them from doing what they love to do. Chris officiates at the high school and college level.  He works basketball, softball and football.  Working in sports is one of his passions.  That passion will be on hold while he heals for approximately six months.  I imagine that there’s a lesson for all of us to learn from this, like “don’t take for granted that what you love will always be there” but that’s a thought for another day.  Until then….here’s what I think Chris’ TOP TEN THINGS THAT CHRIS WILL DO TO KILL TIME WHILE HE HEALS will look like…being the studious note taker that he is.

TOP TEN THINGS THAT CHRIS WILL DO

TO KILL TIME WHILE HE HEALS

  1. Insist that all of his rehab and physical therapy be done to RICHARD SIMMON’S SWEATIN’ TO THE OLDIES DVD. (that dude really gets after it in his short shorts!! Richard Simmon’s….not Chris….no one wants to see Chris in short shorts)
  2. Devotedly watch the ladies on The View, Rachael Ray, Ellen and Judge Judy every single day.  (there’s a silver lining in every dark cloud)
  3. Go to a basketball game of a coach that’s given him a tough time, sit behind the bench and shout encouraging words to the officials working that game.  “YES!!! I, TOO, SAW THAT THE DRIBBLER HAD GAINED AN ILLEGAL ADVANTAGE ON THE DEFENDER BY USING HIS FOREARM INTO HIS LEGALLY ESTABLISHED DEFENDERS TORSO!!  EXCEPTIONAL CALL MY FRIEND!!”  (then wait for the coach to shoot him the stink eye)
  4. Read Fifty Shades of Grey and see what all the hubbub’s about.
  5. Learn to speak Spanish AND the language of LOVE.
  6. Adopt a puppy.  Name it Roscoe.  Get into mischief everyday until his knee is feeling better.
  7. Work on mastering his spray-tan technics.  So far….so good.
  8. See how many Jell-O brand pudding cups that he can eat in one day. (his old record is sixteen)
  9. Test drive all of the electric handicap shopping carts in Linn and Johnson counties stores and rate them accordingly. “While Wal-Mart’s handicap cart lacked the acceleration that I thrive on, its handling and cornering through the maze of aisles and displays was remarkably nimble and, dare I say…supple.  One drawback to this particular model was the lack of a horn…which had been disabled by store personnel, and that the handlebar throttle was sticky from a previous driver.  Overall rating of three on an ascending scale of five.” (submit to CAR AND DRIVER magazine)
  10. Work on making the BEST DAMN GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH….EVER!!

Get better soon, Chris.

R

YOU’RE AS BLIND AS MISTER MAGOO!!!

My buddy Rich (I’m not speaking in third person, honestly) was umping a sub-state baseball game the other night. The stakes were pretty high for the two teams involved, win and your season continues onto the State Tournament. Lose and your season ends, you go home. I wanted to see Rich work and maybe pick up a few tips along the way (they pick the best umpires to work the tournament games). I chose a spot in the bleachers behind home plate next to an elderly woman. She asked who I was rooting for, I replied…”I’m here to watch my friend umpire along first base.” She gave me a blank stare, turned to her husband and said “Fred…this man’s an umpire. Ask him about that weird play the other night when you were watching the Cubs.” Dead serious. Fred told me about the play, it was a weird scenario to be sure. My short answer is that it sounds like the umpires in that game got it right, but without seeing it…who knows. (Fred…by the way, is the kind of grandfatherly, potbellied-man who wears his suspenders UNDER the tee-shirt of his favorite team) I told Fred that the first problem with his story is that he was watching the Cubs try to play ball. He laughed and the rest of the night went well, though the little old lady that I chose to sit next to would introduce me to anyone who sat close to us as “…watch what you say tonight…this guys an umpire…” It was all in jest. She asked me early on “how can you take all of the things that people yell at you?” I replied “I’m paid to be impartial, and honestly…I don’t hear nearly as much as you might think…I’m focused on the game and players. Understand that we’re not perfect.”

One thing that I’ve found out over the past year is that all of these officials (baseball, basketball, softball, football, volleyball, soccer, etc.) have their favorite sport to officiate. For Rich, its baseball…that’s his passion. Rich works at least five nights a week during the baseball season. That’s leaving work early, driving at least an hour to the game, dressing in slacks (and half the time with hot protective equipment on) in hot and humid Iowa weather, then driving home at least an hour, getting home around 11, going to bed then getting up six hours later and starting all over again. That’s passion. He LOVES BASEBALL. For that dedication, hard work and being an exceptional umpire he’s been awarded games to work at the State Tournament, a well-deserved honor.

Before Rich's sub-state game.  Rich is far right, Jeff is at the center.  Sharing a light moment before the game.

Before Rich’s sub-state game. Rich is far right, Jeff is at the center. Sharing a light moment before the game.

Most officials will tell you that they’re either officiating the sport that they love, or waiting until that season begins. Until then they’re officiating another sport to kill time and make a little money. That’s the case with me. I love basketball. I like baseball. I’m trying volleyball this fall. The rules book just arrived, a bookworm I’m not. The exam is less than a month away. I know very little about the sport. Wish me luck.

Here are the last of this past seasons “amusing” stories from the baseball games and basketball games that I officiated.

Little League game between two 11-year-old teams that played each other regularly. As the batter stepped into the batters box he looked at the catcher and asked “Did you get a new chest protector?” The catcher replied “Yeah…I lost my old one so mom got me a new one.” The batter, still looking at the catchers chest protector “I like it…IT’S SHINEY.”

While I worked as base umpire during a sophomore game the shortstop ran to the outfield and made a remarkable diving catch, lying flat-out to catch it…he slide several feet on his belly after hitting the ground hard. I called the batter out on the catch, as the kid just laid there. His coach came out of the dugout, concerned that his player was injured. I looked at the kid, and his teammates around him. His teammates were laughing, the player curled up into the fetal position and I turned to his coach, who was requesting permission to come onto the field, and replied “where he’s hurt coach, you can’t help him” to which the coach stopped and said “oh…he got hurt there…oh…”. (His protective cup “bit” into the area that its intended to protect) The game resumed after a few moments.

During the 3 on 3 basketball league that I worked this summer, between two eight year old squads. These players are just getting onto the court for the first time to play competitive ball. They’re skinny little whips racing around the half-court. The games are usually half wrestling match, half track meet. Final scores are usually 6-4…that’s five made baskets in eighteen minutes. Its a mess to officiate but amusing to watch as these little ones try out the moves that they’ve been practicing at home in the driveway. One little guy got the ball (mind you he was about twenty-five feet from the basket, so he wasn’t a scoring threat…no one is at that level) and he proceeded to dribble the ball between his legs in a figure-eight as his hands and arms flailed about in dizzying fashion ala Harlem Globetrotters style. His defender could have reached in at any time and knocked the ball away but didn’t because he was either too mesmerized by this display of dribbling or just respectful of a “guy doing something cool” and didn’t want to interrupt it.

At the same summer league one parent, whom I know well, was teasing me before the game telling the players “Hey…watch out for this ref…he’s blind as Mister Magoo!!” The kid stopped and looked at us and asked “Who’s Mister Magoo?” I aged a little right then.

One of the last nights that I worked the 3 on 3 league I was assigned the “old gym”. Old gyms just have a smell to them. Musty thick air boxed in by bleachers that put the fans right on top of you. As I changed into my game shoes I spied a little girls game warming up, maybe nine-year olds. They were lined up at the free-throw line, taking turns shooting as someone’s little sister (decked out in a black and white stripped outfit and pink tutu) pranced and twirled around them in a circle, obvious that this was a basketball court and not a stage. A mother walked by carrying a cake for after the game, someone had a birthday that night. The kids chattered excitedly. I don’t know if they were more excited about the game, or the cake…either way…it was a good night to be on their team.

And lastly…the varsity crew that had asked me to join them this upcoming season has….elected to use the guy that had moved away. Instead of me working 21+ varsity dates with them…I’ll get half of that. Games that I looked forward to working are now his. Games that I told folks that I couldn’t work since I was now with this crew are….gone to other officials. I told folks that I was now on a varsity crew of three. Turns out they’re loyal to the guy that moved away and wish to keep him “in the fold” even though he’s moved away. Now I feel like a horse’s rear-end. Like the kid who gets picked last for the team. I don’t blame them for being loyal to him, good officials are hard to find. I blame myself for not being more thorough in asking questions of the crew chief and in what I should expect in the way of games prior to accepting. There are now gaps in my season where no games are assigned to me. I’ll get games, eventually, probably as a fill-in for someone who is sick, injured or has a work commitment come up, but this is what I wanted to avoid…and I failed at that. God’s always got a plan, if even for something as trivial as officiating games. It’ll work out. I’ll dazzle the crews that I’m subbing on and, God-willing, I’ll get asked to join a crew fulltime next summer. My goal of getting post-season games is still on the table…with or without that crew.

God’s got a plan, even in my failure, to lift me up to bigger and better things. I can’t wait to see what it is…

God bless and peace to you,
R

Five thoughts from midseason

#1…Now that I’m working high school baseball games I’m reminded of my friend and mentors (Joel “Duffman” Duffy) observation “Referees are clothing and equipment whores.” For example; basketball referees wear black and white striped shirts. There are different varieties, some with a side panel, others without, some with a state logo, others without. There are no rules stating which shirt to wear other than the standard black and white striped shirt…so I own six, I can only wear one at a time. It makes no sense, but you don’t want to be the only ref without the exact same shirt that night as your partners….that’s the mindset. The same is true in baseball. I have shirts in three colors: light blue, navy and black. I have them in two sizes of each color, one large enough to fit over the chest protector and one normal sized for when I’m the base umpire. Nine shirts total since some shirts are long-sleeved for spring baseball. So as I started to work baseball games with bigger and stronger athletes I felt under equipped in two areas, my legs and my head. I had puny little “little league” shin guards that only protected the front of my calves, so I opted to buy “big boy” shin guards because my calves are, literally, the best part of me. Some guys have rugged good looks, or a big, well-developed chest and arms…but for yours truly its my calves, so I dropped $80 on new shin-guards so that one of America’s finest assets will be better protected. You’re welcome.

#2…After having a kid practically take my head off while he practiced his swing I thought (while the ol’ grey matter was still intact) that I’d buy myself one of those shiny new hockey-style catchers masks that better protects the head of the wearer (me in this case). Its heavier and more cumbersome than my old-timey mask, but if it saves me from getting struck by a batters backswing, or flinching and getting hit in the temple by a pitch….it’ll be worth the $140 spent. It’ll still hurt like hell, to be sure, but I’ll be better off with it on.

I feel like a Star Wars bad guy with this helmet on.

I feel like a Star Wars bad guy with this helmet on.

#3…As I get on the road more to some of these baseball games I was reminded of a basketball tournament that I worked last summer. It was in some little country school, forty-five minutes from home. I didn’t know the way so I used my phones GPS and it took me down the final stretch of the trip on a gravel road. It was rolling hilly pastures with ponds at the bases of the hills and cattle lazily grazing as I drove by, it was quite beautiful and peaceful. On my way home that night, at sunset, I drove the same route and slowed down to take in the beauty that our Good Lord put in front of me and I saw an SUV pulled off to the side of the road, its back hatch opened. In the ditch filled with prairie grass and wildflowers was an elderly woman who had set up a canvas on an easel, dabbing it with paint, the wonderful images of the amazing orange-pinkish-reddish glow of the sun setting on that same rolling pasture with cattle interspersed amongst its hills. I had my windows rolled down and took in the aroma of that tranquil country evening, thankful that I was blessed to witness it and that someone much more qualified than I captured it on canvas. Little moments like these restore my soul.

#4…I had just met my partner that I was working with for a baseball game in Iowa City last week. I usually don’t know the person that I’m working with prior to the game so its standard procedure for the two of us to meet up half and hour before the game and pregame about “who’s going to do what” during the game. As I listened to Andrew tell me that he was a teacher at a local high school and that he coaches that high schools freshman boys basketball team a peculiar feeling came over me. I looked at him quizzingly and asked “did you have a beard last winter?” Andrew looked at me, thought for a second and answered “yeah…I did”. I asked again “did you bring your team up to Cedar Rapids last winter and play at Linn Mar high school on a Saturday morning?” Again Andrew answered “yeah…I did.” I followed up with “..and you got a technical foul that game didn’t you?” By this time Andrew was kind of laughing and scratching his head at my obvious clairvoyant skills when I replied “…I know that because I’m the ref that T’ed you up!” We had a really good laugh over that. I told him that I was glad to have the opportunity to explain why he earned the technical foul, but was angry with myself that I gave it to him when I got upset with his reaction to my call a few moments earlier in the game. I felt that I let my emotions get in the way of professionally administering the technical rather than popping him from twenty feet away with a demonstrative signal. I told Andrew “In three hundred games over the last two years I’ve given out exactly two technical fouls…you’re quite special, really.” We parted as friends that night, me thankful for the opportunity to clear the air and learn to keep my emotions in the locker room.

#5…While working a doubleheader recently in a small farming community in southeast Iowa I was struck by how unique it is to be a part of this profession. Its a hobby, really, but I love to do it. Its totally different than what I do during the day for my career. Another thing…one of my goals has been met, I was asked to join a varsity basketball crew for the 2014-15 season. With 22 varsity dates already penciled in I’m tickled pink to join Kim and Jerry’s basketball crew. I worked with Kim at a baseball game, as he works baseball as well as basketball. I can learn from these guys and (God-willing) be a good addition to their crew. As the sun was setting and the lights illuminated the diamond the field was blanketed with the aroma of fresh-cut, sweet smelling hay, as robins in the neighborhood trees chirped a few more times before turning in for the night. Here are some photos from that nights doubleheader.

Baseball umpires usually have their "locker rooms" in the trunks of their cars or trucks.   This night we put on our equipment next to this cornfield.

Baseball umpires usually have their “locker rooms” in the trunks of their cars or trucks. This night we put on our equipment next to this cornfield.


This stray kitten wandered out of the field to give Kim and I a pep-talk,  but always kept a safe distance in case we opted to make her our mascot for the night.

This stray kitten wandered out of the field to give Kim and I a pep-talk, but always kept a safe distance in case we opted to make her our mascot for the night.


The games over, the visiting teams bus being loaded with sweaty kids, we change out of our equipment for the hour and a half drive home.

The games over, the visiting teams bus being loaded with sweaty kids, we change out of our equipment for the hour and a half drive home.

A full moon may explain why the hometown pitcher balked three times in the first inning but for me in the cornfield/parking lot...it was a welcome reminder that Someone is looking out for all of us.

A full moon may explain why the hometown pitcher balked three times in the first inning but for me in the cornfield/parking lot…it was a welcome reminder that Someone is looking out for all of us.

Peace to you at midweek my friends,
R

Five Friday Notables

#1…Two weeks ago I inadvertently injured a muscle in my neck/shoulder area by working out a little too strenuously. Three trips to the chiro yielded no relief. At night I couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep, soon enough every thing that I did caused me some sort of discomfort in that area of my body. I broke down and went to our family doctor who, seemingly in minutes, diagnosed my problem and wrote me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug called Sulindac. So far….so good. The pain subsides when I take the pill, and over the course of the next few weeks I should, God-willing, get back to normal. Now that I’m getting older I’m starting to read the informational pages that accompany the prescriptions that I take. Sulindac’s reads like a dry, dark joke (which I did get a chuckle over). Here are some of the notes that are listed on Sulindac: “This medicine is an NSAID. Exactly how it works is not known” (sounds like my career so far). “Sometimes causes stroke, heart attack and diarrhea” (please….go on…I’m likin’ what I’m hearing so far). “Other possible side effects include gas…” my lovely bride (the honorable Connie Sue) didn’t believe me when I read that to her, so she had to read it herself. Her comment was something along the line of “…as IF you needed a prescription for THAT…” So long story short…I’m on the road to recovery….and so far its been a gas.

#2…My old high school, Bennett Community, was a victim of declining enrollment through the years and around ten years ago was forced to shut its doors as a high school and the remaining kids enrolled into nearby communities that had high schools. While the building is still used as an elementary it was a shame to see it closed. I remember many a cold winter night when the town buzzed with excitement over the games that would be played that night against one of our conference rivals. The parking lot would be jammed packed and over-flowed into the side streets. The atmosphere was electric as you entered the gym, with the pep band belting out tunes, the teams warming up and the crowds lining up to get the good center court seats. Your best buddies would be there, you’d check out the other teams cheerleaders and it was THE ONLY SHOW IN TOWN. As a underclassman you’d bide your time until you got to take the floor in a couplea years…wearing the red and white of the Bennett Bombers. Recently they had a “Pack the Gym” night at our old high school with players from the 70’s and 80’s taking the court to play a few games of basketball (yes…there was an ambulance parked outside of the gym doors and NO it didn’t get used). I didn’t attend, but judging from the photos that I’ve seen on Facebook, just about everyone else did. The place was filled. It made me realize that fond memories of thee old high school aren’t exclusive to me alone. Old classmates were playing ball with smiles on their faces and some of them even wore their old uniforms. I hope that they have another one of those Pack the Gym nights, I’d like to go.

#3…Our oldest daughter, Jordan, was finally offered her dream job. I’m happy for her and yet, in getting that job, means that I’ll probably see her less and less. She will be traveling constantly as a flight attendant, probably overseas. What’s a father to do? Pray, I suppose.

#4…I was offered the chance to buy my old high basketball uniform for $5. After almost thirty years and forty pounds I’ll pass. Besides, I only scored one point in my varsity career. One point. Scoring prodigy I wasn’t. Bench warming extraordinaire I was.

From 1983...my old practice jersey.  I can still SQUEEZE into it...but the JAWS of LIFE are needed to extract me from it

From 1983…my old practice jersey. I can still SQUEEZE into it…but the JAWS of LIFE are needed to extract me from it

#5…I was offered the chance to officiate some basketball tonight, so I jumped at the opportunity. There will be times this summer when I’ll umpire a baseball game in the morning and referee a basketball game at night. I’m really looking forward to it.

Have a great weekend my friends!
Peace,
R

Hold that thought….I’m not done yet.

Very few things “go as scheduled” in my life.

When my future wife and I decided that we’d get married a year after we first met…I proposed to her thirteen days after we had our first date….it’s a marriage that’s lasted over twenty-five years. I had decided that living apart from her for the next fifty weeks just wasn’t something that I wanted to do (and I’m glad that she felt the same way too!). Then three years ago when we decided to have new windows and siding installed on our home, what we ended up with was new windows, siding, shutters, gutters, new doors, new light fixtures and a new dishwasher, go figure. So yeah…very few things in my life are tied up in neat little gift wrapped packages…as is with most of you too I suppose.

A week ago I wrote of having ended my basketball season. It was over. Fini. Done. What I didn’t know was that my good friend Joel, who also officiates basketball, had hurt his knee and couldn’t finish his games that he had committed to….so I took them. I worked on his crew. They’re great guys and really good officials. Dan’s younger, annoyingly physically fit and a top notch middle school music teacher/music director at his church. Rich Matzen works at a bank. He could own the bank for all I know, he’s so down to earth and fun to be around that his career rarely comes up. When Rich enters the room the energy level enters another, higher, more positive level. Joel…my mentor, is a great guy and official with a killer R-rated sense of humor. I’ve had the chance to work on this crew a couple of different times this year and they’ve been a good deal of fun. So long story short….my school season ends this afternoon around 6…ESPN won’t be there so I thought that I’d just tell you that so that you’d know.

Here are some of the photos that I’ve taken this past season so that you’d have an idea of the fun that I’ve had and a couplea odd things too.

Rich, Dan and I...posing for a selfie before a game with our "game faces" on.

Rich, Dan and I…posing for a selfie before a game with our “game faces” on.

What you hope that your "officials locker room" looks like.  Toilet, sink, shower and a place to sit.  Well lit, warm and clean.

What you hope that your “officials locker room” looks like. Toilet, sink, shower and a place to sit. Well lit, warm and clean.

One of my locker rooms this season.  Creepy clown next to the toilet in a "locker room" that doubled as a storage closet.

One of my locker rooms this season. Creepy clown next to the toilet in a “locker room” that doubled as a storage closet.

Again...this "locker room" was the worst...with a sombrero for a shower cap...if I wanted it....which I didn't.

Again…this “locker room” was the worst…with a sombrero for a shower cap…if I wanted it….which I didn’t.

This is the typical gym that I'd work in.  Not too shabby.

This is the typical gym that I’d work in. Not too shabby.

While Dan judged a show choir contest I filled in and worked with Rich and Joel.

While Dan judged a show choir contest I filled in and worked with Rich and Joel.

The Top Ten Reason’s That
I Enjoy Working With
Joel, Matzen & Dan

1. The pregame center court “group-hug” initiated by Matzen, he smells like a combination of cinnamon, vanilla and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Honestly…I don’t want to let go of him since he smells so good.

2. The cool-ass way Dan finds a volleyball in the locker room then repeatedly dunks it during the halftimes of our games. “Dangerous Dan’s Dunkathon” is what I presently refer to it now. It’s a surefire crowd pleaser!!

3. The way Joel calls a “charge” on an offensive player. It’s a cross between the official NFHS mechanic and someone attempting a Pete Rose head-first slide into a base. He’s the most horizontal dude in the county at that time.

4. The unabashed way Dan flirts with the cheerleaders, the table, the fans…the elderly. It’s funny and awkward at the same time.

5. The “bottomless jar” of pickled eggs that’s always written into every contract that Duffy signs. “We’ll never go hungry if I have anything to do with it!!” is Joel’s favorite saying.

6. The “Kingdom Heirs” CD’s that Matzen’s always humming to…even during live-ball situations. Listen closely and you’ll hear Rich softly singing (to no one in particular) to the soulful Southern Gospel music of Jeff Chapman, Dennis Murphy, Arthur Rice, Jerry Martin, newbie Andy Stringfield & the French brothers. “Oh Lord my God…when I in awesome won…der….STRAIGHT UP WHITE!!…consider all the worlds thy Hands have made…OUTTA THE LANE RED!!”

7. The funny way Dan uses “jazz hands” when signaling to the table. Entertaining and confusing at the same time!!

8. The uncanny way that either Joel or Matzen know someone at every school that we go to. Southeastern Podunk Community High School in Nowheresville? Of course!! Joel’s second cousin (three times removed) on his mother’s side is the science teacher there!! Hayseed High School in the northeastern most county in Iowa? Matzen has family up that way. “Jeez guys! I was just up there for a funeral last month. They got a new water tower put up right next to the VFW!!”

9. The funny way during a 35 point blowout with 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter Joel will approach us and say “…remember guys…we can still screw this up if we don’t officiate to the end.”

10. You don’t need a radio in the car as long as you’ve got Dan Dyrland riding shotgun. The dudes full of Broadway show tunes that he’s just achin’ to belt out!! “Oklahoma” anyone? How ‘bout some “Cats”? HOW ABOUT BOTH!?! YES THANK YOU!!

Have a great week and thanks for reading.
Peace,
R

What lies under that snow? Dreams.

The basketball season is….done.
Over.
Fini.
I bid it a fond farewell.

I’ve officiated games of Comets, Clippers, Trojans, Vikings, Knights, Roughriders, Rebels, Raiders, Buccaneers, Warriors, Sailors, Saints, Indians, Mohawks, Mustangs, Rams, Hawks, J-Hawks, Prairie Hawks, Loins, Cougars, Wildcats, Bobcats, Tigers, Panthers and Huskies. (judging from these names I would’ve been more zookeeper than referee)

Its time to rest. I’m ending my season with a head cold that’s lasted three weeks. Time to re-read the rules for the upcoming seasons sport. Time for clinics and rules discussion. I’ve seen some coaches around town, their teams have been taking indoor batting practice since January. Its 10 degrees outside….its “Baseball Season Eve”.

Fross Park in Center Point Iowa.  One of my favorite places to work.  Friendly folks.  Beautiful setting.  Small town Iowa baseball.  February 14th 2014...dreams of baseball lie under that snow.

Fross Park in Center Point Iowa. One of my favorite places to work. Friendly folks. Beautiful setting. Small town Iowa baseball. February 14th 2014…dreams of baseball lie under that snow.

Fross Park in May of 2013, just before one of my games.  I can't wait!

Fross Park in May of 2013, just before one of my games. I can’t wait!

Stay warm friends.
peace,
R

So tired….so thankful…

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….

Peace,
R

Birthday eve…not what it used to be…

Remember as a kid the excitement that would surround your birthday? The presents that could be something really cool? Selecting birthday treats to share with your classmates? The birthday cake? The special meal? I was really blessed to have a family that made my birthday, or anyone’s for that matter, an event. Now, as an adult, it’s less of a “big deal” for me and more of “let’s find some time to set aside for a meal out and by the way…what kind of cake do you want me to order for you this year?” sort of deal. Still special. I still enjoy it…but in a less “anticipation-filled” way. I guess that’s part of growing up aye? My “birthday eve” this year will be working the 2 to 11 shift (the guy that writes my schedule is a real piece of ‘work’, so full of himself….its me).

This past year was great, it’ll be tough to top. A 25th wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii with Connie. Dropping some of the fat and adding some brawn. Lowering my chlorestrel and blood pressure. Accomplishing my goals in officiating basketball and completing my first year of umpiring baseball. Not too shabby for a guy who barely got a community college associates degree of applied science in retail marketing (is that really a degree? It must be….took me five years to pay it off).

I don’t have very many goals for this coming year. I was hoping to make it onto a “crew” for basketball for next season by dazzling someone into taking me in, but alas…its not to be, yet. I did do well enough this season to already be assigned varsity games for the 2014-2015 season, but as a “lone ranger” sort of ref…filling in where needed. My goals for my upcoming year are as such: umpire high school baseball in addition to USAAA Little League; officiate volleyball games (I don’t know a thing about the game…so its a leap of faith in my ability to learn new things, I suppose); and the biggest goal….to be assigned a post season basketball game to officiate as a third year ref. That’s the one that I really want, and work towards every time that I step onto the court.

For my birthday tomorrow I’ll celebrate with my co-workers with some cake that I’m having dropped off, then will officiate a girls game at a nearby school, then I’m taking a three-day weekend. A boys doubleheader game Friday night. Coffee with my best friend, Dave, on Saturday morning. Dinner and a movie with Connie Sue Saturday night, then just letting Sunday fall into place.

I'll be "this many years old".   (Times five, minus 2)  Kudos to my bride for catching my lightning quick mechanics on a "push" foul.

I’ll be “this many years old”. (Times five, minus 2) Kudos to my bride for catching my lightning quick mechanics on a “push” foul.

Take care friends. I appreciate you reading and wish you a happy, healthy and safe week.
Peace,
R

Honey…bring me my “medicine”, its in the liquor cabinet

I knew that this would happen. I know myself well enough to realize that when I accepted game assignments back in August through October that I’d probably get sick sometime during the season. That time, is now.

I officiate basketball games. My goal for this year was to officiate varsity basketball games as a second year guy. I’ve reached that goal. Working varsity games means working with better athletes, better coaches in front of more people, so my officiating has to be at, or above, the level that I’m working. It’s easy to do because I love what I’m doing, but now a head cold is bringing me down. Last year it was a stomach bug that lasted a week, but I didn’t miss a game. This head cold won’t keep me from officiating, but its the whole “feeling crummy” thing that will put a damper on something that I love. Somehow a person just can’t schedule a head cold to fall onto the right time frame.

Recently as I was standing on the court, watching the players warm up, I thought to myself “Working varsity games isn’t quite what I thought that it would be.” The games are going fine, in fact they’re going great. I haven’t had any problems, what is catching me a little off guard is the lack of sleep. My day starts at 5:15 when I get out of bed, head into the store for a nine or ten-hour day, then I end up driving forty-five minutes or more to the school where my games are for that night. After the games I’ll get home around 10:30 or 11 and will head to bed, then start the whole process again, except with five or six hours of sleep. It’s worn me down, I’m tired and now I’m sick. All of my usual tricks of taking Emergen-C and napping on my days off haven’t fended off the bug that’s got a hold of me now (I may have to “medicate” with some Captain Morgan tonight).

There has been a silver lining to all of this work, I’ve already been assigned to work varsity games for the next season of 2014-15. I have some neat stories from this season to write about in the coming months, and after that…baseball umpiring begins and after that…I’ve decided to officiate volleyball matches. I enjoy these games that I’m lucky enough to be allowed to work, and be with the kids and coaches who I enjoy officiating for. Until then, keep warm, be safe and enjoy life.

Peace,
R

“Two, four, six, eight!!!

…WHO REALLY PERSPERATES?!?! THE REF! THE REF!! YEAH THE REFFF!!!”

So truth be told…I’ve never had a working relationship with cheerleaders. In high school, as we rode to some distant town to play a basketball game, the cheerleaders would begin a cheer (more like a song) about ten minutes outside of our destination. It went something like this “Fred will shine tonight, Fred will shine. Fred will shine tonight…right down the line (more like “lin-A-innnee”). Fred will shine tonight. Fred will shine. Sun goes down. Moon goes up, Fred will shine!!” The girls team would join in and sing that song FOR EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THAT BUS. God bless them, they excluded no one. Starters? Absolutely. Benchwarmers…sure, why not? Team managers…hey…they’ve got feelings too! Coaches and even the bus driver got serenaded. What bothered me was, statistically speaking…we’d be unfreakin’ unstoppable if everyone “shined”…but alias…it was just a cheer and not a prediction of exceptional play by the whole bus. Cheerleaders equaled “perky misguided optimism” in my book in the early nineteen eighties.

During my junior year I pointed out a cheerleader from a different school while we were playing their school in basketball. My “man-in-the-know” Cory Hein was dating a cheerleader from that very school. He professed to know the names of all of them, what Cory didn’t possess was 20/20 vision. As I pointed out the girl that I wanted to know the name of he apparently saw the girl next to her (of same height, hair color, etc.) and gave me HER name. So I called up the wrong cheerleader (cold-called her mind you…on the phone…I was a total stranger to her. They call that “stalking” now) and asked her out on a date. She agreed. Then we kind of found out together, prior to meeting, that I originally intended to ask out “Theresa” and not the girl that I did. Long story short…we ended up dating for six months…my first crush. The fact that she dumped me a week before my senior year for my best friend was karma I suppose. Crushing life lesson learned, I moved on.

Fast forward thirty years. I officiate basketball games. When I’m working the baseline, as “Lead” official I like to work wide and deep, meaning I stand as far back as I can from the lane and as deep as I can get…mostly along the wall. Doing this gives me a great view of the lane and what’s going on and I work this way religiously. I’ve stepped on photographers, tripped over bystanders and “yes”…rubbed shoulders with a few cheerleaders who want to occupy the same space. I’m usually coy about claiming my space, I have a few tricks that work like a charm but some cheerleaders feel that, that’s their area to occupy as well.

During this season I’ve had a couplea encounters with cheerleaders. During one game, a hotly contested match, I had positioned myself against the wall, focused intensely on the lane. What caught my attention were two pom-poms shooting out from behind me to in front of my shoulders…on both sides. They’d pop out for a count of maybe “one” or “two” then disappear, then do the same thing a few seconds later as their chant went on. I could her the girls laughing and I can only imagine what had happened….I had backed up so far that I had pinned a cheerleader to the wall behind us. I didn’t give and neither did she…both of us doing our jobs….but she wasn’t there when I returned back to that end of the court….apparently being that close to a sweaty middle-aged guy once that night was enough. Then, just before Christmas, I was working a game at Waterloo Columbus. Sure enough the cheerleaders were in my space, but we co-existed without anyone getting in the way of the other. Towards the end of the game, which was a blowout, I thanked them (during a time out) for holding off on their “leg-kick” for a couplea seconds after a made basket so that I wouldn’t get kicked in the rump. They laughed and asked if I liked their cheers and if I wanted any of them repeated. Kids…make me laugh.

The last encounter happened tonight. I was working the baseline again and had, again…gotten into one of the girls “spaces”. I was so close to her that I could hear her whisper to her friend “he stinks.” I smiled slyly through my whistle as I held my ground (as it were) and watched the action in the lane. I don’t think her comment was about my officiating, I’m pretty sure that I really did stink…running up and down a basketball court in dress slacks and shirt aren’t conducive to smelling like Axe body spray like most boys her age are emulsified in.

Long story short…it’s been a good season so far, with the exception of messing with cheerleaders and making them gag…which is something that I’ve been good at for 30 plus years.

Until next time, peace.
R