Posted tagged ‘basketball officiating’

The Wisdom of Ray Lutz

December 3, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 3, 2017

                                    

As I drive through Calhan, heading to Simla, this morning out of habit I’ll look to my right as I pass a certain street two blocks this side of the county fairgrounds. Down this street on the right Ray Lutz has lived. It’s a nondescript home that has seen its share of pie consumed by numerous visitors. The number address, in fact, should be 3.14!

Ray passed away on Friday, December 1. He had been a sports official for so long people were prone to call him Methuselah.

Ray would greet me with “Reverend” or “Reverend Wolfe”. Always a kind word or gentle jab. He told me he was Methodist. I told him I’d pray for him. The more I got to know him the more he didn’t resemble a Methodist. Method was secondary to common sense for Ray. The rulebook might say one thing, but sometimes basketball game situations required that common sense trump the rules of the game. Don’t get me wrong! He knew the rules, but if everybody on the interstate is driving 85 when the speed limit is 65 you sometimes have to inch that speedometer up a bit more to not get rear-ended. Common sense driving!

The first time I met Ray was at a class he taught for brand new basketball officials. Twenty or so of us were seated at desks in the classroom and listened to Mr. Lutz explain how a person officiates a basketball game. He was interesting to listen to then, and I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about. At the end of our six weeks of sessions we took a test to see if we would be able to actually blow whistles at basketball games that season. As I sat there mulling over possible answers he came by and told me that I should probably think about what I had answered for a certain question. It was his way of getting me past the cut-off. For sixteen years, until the end of last season, I proceeded to blow my whistle and wear the stripes. He was my officiating shepherd, and I was one of his striped lambs.

One year he encouraged me to run for one of the elected positions of our basketball officials organization. I did, and I lost! My first reaction was disbelief, not because I had been beaten, but rather because Ray had been the one to get me to do it in the first place. I thought it meant victory.

For several summers I went to a basketball camp for officials that Dave Hall conducted. Dave Hall has done NCAA championship and tournament games for a number of years. Ray was always one of the clinicians for Mr. Hall. It was where I was able to talk to him the most, sitting beside him by a court and taking in some of the wisdom that would naturally ooze from his personality. It was also at those courtside chats that he encouraged me with flattering remarks on how good I was doing, that he expected big things from me that coming season, and other remarks that made me think I was all that. Of course, I think Ray, the encourager, made those remarks to most officials at the camps he was a part of, but either way it caused me to want to be the best I could be.

A few years ago he was in the hospital for a serious medical condition, so I went and paid him a visit. I walked in the room and he looked at me.

“Reverend!” he greeted me, and we talked about life, basketball, health, and blessings.

Some of us are privileged enough to make a mark in the world in some way. The most effective people are those who influence others in their craft or passion. They are the folks who people can look behind and, like the waves behind a motorboat, see the number of people who are following faithfully in the wake of the same pursuit.

Ray Lutz will always be that. A wise mentor, a professor of common sense basketball officiating philosophy, and perhaps…even a Methodist!

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!

Getting Scorched!

March 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 11, 2017

                                     

I’ve coached basketball at Timberview Middle School In Colorado Springs for sixteen years. I feel very blessed to be able to do it. Once in a while my team has gotten scorched! This past Thursday we forgot to put our “hoops sun block” on. The result was a severe ego burn! Thanks to a three point shot at the buzzer we only lost by 29!

It was the third time this season my boys had played Mountain Ridge Middle School. The first time we were blitzed on their court by 30! The second time was in the championship game of our local tournament, and we closed the gap to 12! The third time was probably the worst because we are playing in our gym.

To their credit, this group of Mountain Ridge players has not lost a game in two years. To our credit four of the five games we’ve lost these past two years have been to Mountain Ridge.

What do you say to boys who are accustomed to strutting down the hallway on the next school day after a victory with a hint of cockiness in their steps?

Welcome to reality! As someone used to say “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the bug smashed on the windshield!” Life is filled with conquering moments and crushing defeats!

BUT…but we live in a culture that thinks their is always a villain in a defeat! People look for scapegoats in losses. This past week the same Mountain Ridge team had played a different school that they also defeated. The next day the person who assigns officials to middle school games got a call from the school’s athletic director complaining about the officials. They had called four fouls on the school’s best player in the first quarter! It was unfair! They were obviously biased! There was no recognition of the coach’s or player’s responsibilities in the situation. Why did the coach leave him in, not only after his third foul, but after his second foul in the first quarter? What about the player’s responsibility to NOT FOUL?

As a coach I’ve been exalted and also vilified! Some have seen me as the best thing since sliced bread and others have wanted to slice me up like bread!

A different team I coached recently got off to a really bad start against a team that ended up winning our league that season. I called time out three times in the first quarter trying to escape the tsunami! Why hold on to them? If you are getting beat by twenty in the first quarter those timeouts aren’t going to do you a bit of good at the end of the game!

Sometimes we’re just the smashed bug on the windshield! My players probably get tired of me saying it, but after a loss I talk about what we can learn from the experience. When you get scorched there are plenty of teachable moments to refer back to.

The team I coach this season has a number of very talented players who haven’t learned how to play well with each other. That’s been my challenge. They hear me harping on them about offensive possessions where there has been just one pass and then someone launches a three point attempt. They hear me spout off “the lesson of the moment” about “If you can get that shot after one pass you can probably get the same shot after five passes.” They are a good team that makes one great play, but then forgets what they’re suppose to do on the next in-bounds play.

They make me look at what I need to do to be a better coach! They are a team that isn’t used to losing, but taking a loss is sometimes the best thing that can happen to you for the long journey!

Losing Perspective In the Midst of Playing a Game

January 11, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 11, 2016

                      

This past weekend I officiated eight basketball games (one college, four 5th grade instructional league, and 3 middle school club games), coached one game, and was on the bench for two others.

Here’s what I learned. There are a lot of parents and coaches who lose all perspective. There are very few times that players lose perspective, although a couple of Cincinnati Bengals’ players majorly go against that statement!

The best of the eight games I blew my whistle for was the college game…the game that meant the most! Coaching jobs, school reputations, school pride, recruiting potential new players, conference titles and NCAA post-season berths are all tied into the playing of a college game…and yet, it was the calmest and most enjoyable game to officiate. Players battled hard, coaches coached, fans cheered, and it was fun.

The worst of the games would be a three-way tie between one of the instructional league games where one of the coaches evidently didn’t get the memo about it being INSTRUCTIONAL!!!; one of the club games between two sixth grade girls’ teams, in which one of the coaches and the parents must have “Red Bulled” up before the game; and the JV and Varsity games I was a part of coaching, in which the parents of the visiting team were obnoxious, insulting, and blatantly immature towards the officials.

In those games only a couple of players had attitude problems, and they seemed to take their cues from either the coach or mom and dad in the bleachers.

What is it about a game that makes reasonable people lose all perspective? As a coach I value the opportunity to teach my players not just about the game, but about life…what’s really important and what is the chaff that will burn away? A big part of the teaching is the modeling of consistent beliefs and behavior. Some coaches create players who are “game-long pains” to deal with. They model that kind of behavior and/or condone that kind of behavior.

I hope I’m the other kind of coach that creates players who are able to keep perspective. During the Saturday game I coached, one of my players questioned a call by one of the officials. My response: “Sub!” She came to the bench and I calmly explained to her that asking the officials about a call was my job not hers. Players questioning officials is not to be a part of our DNA.

One brand new high school varsity boy’s basketball coach that I’ve officiated for models consistency and integrity. His team is struggling. He inherited a cupboard that is bare. As an official I’ve offered him encouragement even in the midst of a game. He’s a brand new varsity coach, the kind that our sons and daughters need to be influenced by. If I can say just a few words of encouragement to him to help him keep the right perspective I will do that.

Officials are not the enemy. They are simply the ones given the task of keeping the horses in the corral. Coaches understand that there are good officials, other officials trying to be good, and still other officials that will never be good. Officials are like a school classroom. There are those who excel, some average, and others who struggle.

The sad reality is that the number of officials is declining, and one of the main reasons is the loss of perspective by those who are coaching or watching the game. Officials in any sport can now get an insurance policy that covers death or injury during an athletic contest. Whereas most of those deaths are related to heart attacks, there is the growing concern about officials being attacked by spectators, coaches, or players.

It really comes down to a choice that people involved in athletic contests make. You either choose to keep perspective or you lose it! When people lose perspective everyone loses!

Making Decisions That People Yell At

January 26, 2015

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!