By Joe Henricksen
In all honesty, I can't think of a more thankless position to be in than a high school basketball official. Think about it. The goal of an official is to walk out of a gym having those in attendance not even knowing you were there.
I admire and respect what these three individuals do every time I head out to a gym and the impact they have on a game so many people love. High school refs aren't living the luxury of a NBA official. They aren't getting paid the huge amounts of cash, in the neighborhood of $700 - $1,000 per game, college officials who do Big Ten, ACC and Big East games are receiving.
These guys have it even rougher than high school football officials, who are at least outdoors and 30 or 40 yards away from the prep fans who sometimes border insane. In Illinois high school basketball, the men in stripes are controlling the most high-profile sport in the state--and doing it just feet away from fans in the stands and constantly within earshot of both coaches. The skin they have must be elephant tough. And at least half of the calls a ref makes, someone in the gym disagrees with -- often times when it's 100 percent accurate. The worst part is officials are vastly underpaid and underappreciated, especially the good ones, while also constantly being placed at the center of the storm.
You knew there was a big but coming.
There is a rapidly growing trend among high school basketball officials. And it's being seen too regularly by those closest to the game and is certainly alarming. That trend is an arrogance and haughtiness attitude in regard to the game, making calls and the way they are treating both players and coaches. There seems to be a greater desire to engage in confrontation than ever before. With some of these individual officials (and again it's a small number but the concern is it's a growing one) it's become so blatant and almost embarrassing. There is a way to go about making calls and controlling a game.
The Hoops Report would love to call out certain individual officials by name (and there are many high school basketball coaches who would love for me to do so as well). But it's not about singling them out. This isn't even about officials blowing calls.
There are going to be missed calls. There may be several missed calls each game. We're talking humans who sometimes don't have the best angle or they simply get it wrong. In fact, I rarely ever get in an uproar over poor officiating. While it's certainly not ideal, I'm in the belief that when it comes to poor officiating, most of the time it evens itself out over the course of a game. And just like any profession, there are going to be bad ones in officiating as well.
But what I -- and many others -- are getting put off by is the growing arrogance and attitude of particular officials. Again, this is not about blown calls but about professionalism slowly slipping away for far too many of them. A reminder to all officials: the game is not about you. Ever. There isn't a single person (Ok, maybe the wife of the ref) who has ever paid a single dollar to come watch you officiate. You can take control of a game without being the show. And try to think back to why it is you first got into doing what you do. It hopefully had something to do with the kids on that court.
There are outstanding officials out there. A couple of years ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report did a "Best Of" issue in its publication, which included every category imaginable in high school basketball. The lengthy list included "Best official." When the project and research began, the Hoops Report didn't believe there would be a consensus on one official. There are too many out there and too many individual perceptions. The thought was the category "Best official" would have to be scratched. But as the survey and research went on, it became abundantly clear there was a run-away winner.
Fred Allman, a respected official who has worked eight supersectional games and three Elite Eights, was the clear winner. And the Hoops Report can't help but think back to the reasoning many of those coaches gave for putting Allman at the top.
Sure, he obviously calls a good game. But the consensus of the high school coaches surveyed was that he handled and communicated with individual players and coaches far superior than his peers. Coaches noted how he is fair, consistent and comes to the floor without an ego. He takes responsibility and understands the game is way more important than himself. There are plenty of other officials that bring the same intangibles and credibility to the floor -- official Kevin Grayer is another example of an official who just gets it when watching him work a game -- but Allman is the poster-child due to the survey the Hoops Report put out.
Allman and several other standout officials represent the best at what they do and are widely respected. In fact, you have to feel bad for the good ones in the profession as the bad apples are beginning to truly contaminate the whole bunch. But the Hoops Report has seen more "shows" put on by officials and unwarranted technical fouls called this season than it can ever remember. There has been one example after another where I have shook my head at how officials have handled situations with players, coaches and even fans. And added stories told to me by coaches--coaches who weren't the ones victimized or targeted but were there--add fuel to the Hoops Report's officiating fire.
Once again, players can be very disrespectful, coaches can get out of hand and fans can be idiots. Anyone who has seen enough games realizes this. But while players can get Ts, coaches can be forced to sit on the bench, fans can be tossed out of a gym and games can be impacted because of it all, there are really no repercussions for the outlandish behavior and attitudes (again, not bad calls) of officials.
For starters, we need them. Badly. There is an absolute demand for them due to a shortage of officials, especially good ones, statewide. Second, there aren't any TV cameras (usually), HDTV, replays, ESPN and national TV games showing their costly mistakes or behavior in a gym on a Friday night. And third, for some ridiculous reason the IHSA has a rule in place where officials can only work the State Finals in Peoria three times. Once an official has reached his magic mark of three, he is no longer allowed to officiate on the state's biggest stage.
Huh? The best at what they do can't do it anymore because they've done it too many times? An official like Allman, who was a run-away winner in a survey of 150-plus coaches naming the best official in the state, will never do a state tournament game in Peoria again due to having done three already.
There are many issues surrounding the state of high school basketball officiating. A shortage, lack of pay, not allowing the best to do the biggest games, just being plain bad, etc. But the escalating concern of arrogance, ego, confrontation and the desire to be the show is just simply a change in attitude.
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