I’m the guy everybody hates as soon as I step in the building. And it’s by virtue of my fashion alone.
There’s something about those black and white stripes — the stripes of a basketball referee’s shirt —that brings out the worst in what I think are normally good people.
I’ve been followed to my car by angry daddys who will sweetly tuck their daughters in later that night and kiss them on their forehead. I’ve been accused of cheating for teams that I didn’t even know where they were from by blue-haired grandmas that bake apple pies for birthday presents. I’ve even been hit with a bag of Skittles that reportedly came from the hand of a preacher. What kind of sane person throws away a bag of Skittles??
You deal with a lot of crazy stuff as a basketball ref.
Recently the TSSAA announced pay cuts for referees for the remainder of the basketball season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of my colleagues think that taking a cut in pay for a pretty high-pressure job sounded crazy.
Me? Not so much.
I love money as much as anybody but I understand that many basketball programs are struggling due to lost revenue from ticket sales. Some schools have limited their attendance as a hedge of virus protection, while others have opened with little restriction only to find that there are still plenty of good seats up in those bleachers.
I’ve not worked a game this year with more than 50% capacity. Do you know how loudly insults echo in empty gyms?
What’s crazy to me is this:
The TSSAA is an organization that exists to implement fair play. It consistently emphasizes the importance of communication to us with coaches, players and each other during a game. There are even pages in our officials manuals dedicated to communication, yet the TSSAA made this decision and then left it to our supervisors to articulate the decision down to us in their own words.
No email. No whistle. Nothing from Nashville. Ain’t that crazy?
I'm not saying they should have asked for our permission or even our input because the answer would have been a resounding “No.” But maybe it would have sounded like this.
“During these unprecedented times, we’ve had to make some tough decisions regarding referee pay for high school contests and reduce the pay to $_____. Many of our schools are struggling financially and there’s no doubt many of you are as well. We understand if many of you decide to not officiate the remainder of the year. However, we are already halfway through this season and would appreciate it if you dug in and persevered through this difficult time. No doubt the kids would appreciate it, as well. Together, we will all make it through this. #refstrong”
Well, maybe not that hashtag but you get my point.
I’ve met hundreds of officials over the last nine years. I’ve spent many a mile with them all the way from Jamestown to almost Jackson, and I can honestly say that there aren’t many that could argue against that.
But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, there were clouds of vagueness and lots of questions left unanswered, which has led to some low morale.
The TSSAA has a tough job. It oversees 374 member schools and all of their sports and officiating for their sports. It gets complaints daily. It gets sued for petty reasons. It sees more crazy stuff in a week then I’ll see the rest of my referee days.
But would it have been so hard to have simply communicated this decision to us? Or am I crazy?
Jason Goolesby is a high school basketball referee. He also contributes content for the Wilson Post.