WORDS FROM W.W. January 26, 2015
There were groans and catcalls from one side of the gym, and, ironically, cheers from the other side. It was a “jeer cheer smoothie”, a mixture of abuse and praise that left you unsure of the quality of the taste. For the next hour and twenty minutes I received a lifetime supply of the sweet and sour partial satisfaction and partial disgust.
Although basketball coaching is how I spend most of my free time when I’m not with family, I still officiate a few high school basketball games each year and a few Junior College games. If my calculations are correct this is my thirteenth year of blowing the whistle. Last Saturday I was blowing the whistle as the “R” of a three man crew. “R” for those who aren’t fluent in “referee language” stands for “referee”, and for that game is the head official for the crew. I talk to the captains, talk to the coaches, check the scorebook, and make decisions where there might be a discrepancy.
Saturday’s game was one of those hotly contested games where players from both teams were prone to make unwise decisions…at the same time! The result was that every other time down the court one of the three officials had to blow his whistle and announce a verdict. A decision had been made in his mind and the results produced people pulling their hair out and others jumping in celebration.
Most basketball games are not like. I’ve been wearing the black and white stripes for many games where it seems as an official I just seem to be there watching the players run back and forth…under control…playing smart…playing as a team.
The games, like Saturday’s game, where the officials feel like they have to continually render judgment calls are the toughest games to referee. It takes common sense, the ability to instantly slice a play into pieces in your mind to determine what caused the contact, how much unnecessary drama was added to the moment, who played smart and who played dumb, who wants a bail-out, and whether or not we had a similar play at the other end of the court. As an official fairness is paramount on our list of values. We recognize that their are two different parties with vested and different interests. No one wants to be the game loser, and each play of the game is just a smaller version of that win-lose scenario.
As a coach I know the officials that are wise and that I trust, and I know the officials who whenever the whistle is blown it is like a mystery is about to be revealed. It’s interesting that my “seasonedness”, or less kind people would say “old age”, has brought me to a point where I have very few disagreements with coaches who have been around for a few years. I have to earn the trust of new coaches, but, on the other hand, they need to earn my trust as well. When they recognize my fairness and consistency they know that the verdict of the game will be on them and their players; and, on the other hand, when I as an official see how they coach their players, adjust to game situations, use common sense, and manage the game, I become more open to hearing their concerns about certain plays and questions that sometimes I don’t even have an answer to.
Fans are a different story. Fans are spectators. Games and decisions are never to be determined or swayed by spectators. They are their to watch and cheer…and yes, to jeer. I watch a lot of basketball games as a fan, and do not always agree with the decisions of the officials, but I never feel it is justified or acceptable to yell obscenities at the officials.
Many people have asked me over the years why I officiate? Why do I allow myself to be subjected to such verbal abuse and ridicule. In an increasingly unpredictable world where people feel compelled to shoot one another, throw sucker punches, and intentionally minimize your humanity, why put yourself into that arena?
Because I love the game! Pure and simple, uncomplicated and yet sincere, I love the game!
Don’t get me wrong! I blow calls. I have whistles that I wish I could take back. I replay certain situations in my head as I struggle to fall asleep that night. I’m not perfect…far from it!
In fact, ask most spectators after any game and they will usually tell you that I was wrong close to half of the time…sometimes more!