Harry Bohn of Clarendon Hills is in his 42nd year of officiating basketball games. At one time, he worked 40 high school games a year. Now he works 25 high school games and 20 small college games a year. He worked the finals of the state tournament in 1983-85 and worked the Proviso West holiday tournament championship in December.
On top of that, Bohn has served as an Illinois High School Association rules interpreter for 25 years, a head basketball clinician for 10 years and assignment chairman for the South Suburban League for the past 15 years. If anyone knows the game, he does.
"The biggest change has been the speed of the game," Bohn said. "More and more teams play an uptempo game. It evolves from AAU and the kids playing year-round. More kids are capable of playing and playing at a younger age. There are more good athletes at a young age."
Bohn recalls the way the game was played in the 1960s and 1970s. There wasn't as much athleticism. A 6-5 kid was considered tall and frequently played in the pivot. There weren't as many good players or teams. The game was played at a slower pace. The kids wore shorts and Converse sneakers.
"Today, officials have to have a much more patient whistle," he said. "Instead of anticipating what might happen, they have to wait on the whistle to see what actually happens."
Bohn believes the migration from the city to the suburbs has changed the landscape of the game. More kids are playing. Suburban programs are improved and more competitive. Kids want to play uptempo and coaches are following their lead.
Unfortunately, coaches aren't staying in the game as long as before because it has become a 12-month activity. There are fewer Dick Van Scyocs and Will Slagers and Vergil Fletchers and Dolph Stanleys and Gene Pingatores and Max Kurlands and Gordy Kerkmans. There is more of a burnout factor and a turnover among coaches who don't have as much experience.
Bohn believes there are more positive aspects to officiating today, citing three-man crews to keep up with the faster pace of the game, more training programs, clinics and camps, heightened security in the gyms, less verbal abuse and even an increase in the number of new officials in the Chicago area.
"What is exciting in a lot of places is that students and fans are coming back to the game and more and more students are getting involved, following what they do at Duke and other colleges," Bohn said. "They are bringing more enthusiasm back to the game. It has been a very positive factor in the last five years."
He said irate fans aren't as much of a problem as they were in the past because schools are doing a better job with security and are dealing with sportsmanship on a regular basis. But he admits "there are cases at the end of a tough game with a tough crowd that you wonder how you will get off the floor and wonder if there is enough security," he said.
While the IHSA once hinted that there was a rising crisis in officiating, Bohn said lack of officials isn't a problem in the Chicago area. While all officials associations continue to actively recruit new officials, hoping to lure former players or fans, the economic recession has helped because more people are looking for ways to supplement their income.
So what is the state of officiating?
"They are more consistent in using proper mechanics than ever before. Because young officials are required to go to training at least every three years, some every year, they are much better in being in the proper position to make the right call, much better in the last 10 years than ever before," Bohn said.
"People would argue with me but I am convinced that basketball officiating is better than ever before. It used to be that Chicago teams would worry about Downstate officials and Downstate teams would worry about Chicago area officials. But the IHSA has broken up the teams and we haven't missed a beat.
"The problem is most fans are not educated in the rules of the game, some coaches, too. They aren't qualified to be officials. They don't understand the three-second rule or the continuation rule. And the biggest issue of all is palming and traveling. Fans think any time a player gets on the side of the ball, it is palming. The fact is the ball must hesitate in the player's hand."