In a nutshell I attempt the impossible

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 nightdear 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.

Bringin' in the subs...

Bringin’ in the subs…

  • 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. a foul

That…is a foul


“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.

During my drive to my tournament games Monday night it came to me that tonight...some boys playing careers will end.  They're Seniors in high school, and with a loss...their competitive playing days will be over.  The players and those Senior cheerleaders...its over tonight for them.  The squeak of sneakers on a basketball court, the smell of freshly popped popcorn, the ticket-takers letting you pass without paying since you're the player/'ll be over tonight.  I think of this as I drive towards the school, along blacktop highways on a raw and overcast late winter day as dead prairie grass and corn stalks reach up in vain....breaking the crust of a hard winter snow.  It'll be warm soon, time for baseball and the promise of new dreams...but for now...I'm sad.

During my drive to my tournament games Monday night it came to me that tonight…some boys playing careers will end. They’re Seniors in high school, and with a loss…their competitive playing days will be over. The players and those Senior cheerleaders…its over tonight for them. The squeak of sneakers on a basketball court, the smell of freshly popped popcorn, the ticket-takers letting you pass without paying since you’re the player/cheerleader…it’ll be over tonight. Your parents who brought you up, taught you to play the game and supported you through your playing career will either see that end, or have that career extended if for but one more tournament game.  I think of this as I drive towards the school, along blacktop highways on a raw and overcast late winter day as dead prairie grass and corn stalks reach up in vain….breaking the crust of a hard winter snow. It’ll be warm soon, time for baseball and the promise of new dreams…but for now…I’m sad that it’ll be over too soon for even me.

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!!

God bless,


Wanted…a few more games

Just as quickly as the season began, it ends for me this coming week.  It started on October 30th in a small junior high gym and will end much the same, 124 games later at St Joe’s middle school in Marion.  A lot has happened, most notably for me was the reaching and exceeding of a goal.  I set a goal of being the best official that I could be (sounds easy enough and cheesy at the same time, since I’m the sole judge).

As folks know, an individual can be their own harshest critic, as was the case with my officiating.  Unless you know what to look for, how to use “proper NFSHSA mechanics”, primary coverage areas as well as the differences of common fouls, technical fouls, intentional fouls (and their penalties) and violations and so on and so forth…watching me work a game would look like me just running up and down a basketball court occasionally blowing my whistle (which I’m very good at).  I wonder if coaches, players or fans ever know how much we officials dissect our own performances and yes…blown calls (yep…we have them…we’re human…and I had at least four that I can remember off the top of my head and wish that I had called differently or not at all.)

I tried to learn from my mistakes, so I wouldn’t make them again.  We’re not much different from the players in some regard, as not every shot is made, not every play works and not every situation is perfectly executed.  Fortunately I have a couplea guys who I can email and ask questions about certain situations that have happened to me…and for that, I’m thankful.  One has even become a friend, Joel.  So thanks, Joel, for all of the help and support this season, for letting me ask stupid questions and telling me the truth/right answer and videotaping a couple of my games (I still run like The Simpsons Ned Flanders).

A few things stand out this (soon to be) past season:

  • I’ve worked with plenty of really good guys.


  • A parent of one of the players came over after a game and told me that me and my partner did a “horseshit job.”  He apologized a week later.  Weird.


  • Two weeks later at the same gym, same team, three different parents came up to me and my partner, Dan, and told us that we did a very good job.  One guy even told me “I’ve seen you grow since you started, you’re doing good.”  Dead serious, he said that.  I don’t know who he was or why he felt the need to say that but it was nice to hear.


  • My best game was a junior varsity game in the middle of my season.  Rock music during warm ups.  Two good teams playing ball.  I had a solid game and a veteran official who had been somewhat critical of me in November (he worked my third game with me) told me that night that “working with me was like working with a seasoned veteran” which was real nice to hear.  I also got a free hot dog that night (what can I say…the ladies running the Thomas Jefferson High School concession stand love a man in uniform…at least a hot dogs worth of love).


  • And…league games for the little kids…while a pain to officiate can be a little fun too.  Just a few seconds prior to handing the ball to a player who’s standing out of bounds I look at the defensive player guarding them while crowding the line I’ll point to the out of bounds line and say “You can’t reach across this line…if you doI’ll have to cut off your arms…it’s in the rules.”  The kid always smiles, it lightens the moment and it’s a game again.

And finally…I plan on setting a higher goal for next season…working mostly high school games, whether that includes some varsity level games or not remains to be seen.  I’ve made plans to attend a couplea basketball officiating camps this summer, to hone my officiating skills (what there are of them), learn the varsity three-man game (it alludes me at this time) and make a few professional connections.  My goal was to get to the next level in three to four years, but if things pan out…I could make it sooner than that, perhaps in a year or two.  Until then…I’ll do my best, try to keep my mouth shut and learn what I should learn.

Baseball season is approaching and my rule books are waiting to be read and memorized…ugh.

For those avid readers of RICH RIPLEY who didn’t get a chance to see me officiate this season…here’s a link to one of my games, taken by Joel (I owe him a meal for this.  You’d have thought that with that kind of reward he could have put in some kickass special effects like me having blazing speed, super jumping ability or cheerleaders doing their own special cheer for yours truly “HEY SEXY!  HEY SEXY!! HEY SEXY REFEREE MAN WITH THE BALD SPOT SHAKIN’ IT SO SEXY!  SO SEXY!  SO SEXY!!” (I’m not so sure that they didn’t cheer that already…but it wouldn’t have killed Joel to record it or dub it into this video).  Nonetheless, the link lies below.

(special thanks to my partner that night, Jerry Winter, for his tutelage and Joel Duffy for the video and his season-long mentoring, thanks Joel!)  At the two minute mark I call a foul and DON’T RAISE MY ARM (which is what I’m suppossed to do when I call a foul, this is why it’s important for me to see this) and at the 2:25 mark I correctly call a foul…why the difference…I probably rushed the first time.

As always…have a great week and don’t forget to tip your barista!