Officials are People, Too

One of the most interesting sideshows that occur during every basketball game is the relationship between the officials and the coaches and players. Believe it or not, the officials have feelings, too. No matter how much it seems, they don’t go into any game thinking they are going to cheat one of the teams. You believe that, don’t you?

I love listening to stories the officials tell about incidences that occurred during one of their games. It doesn’t have to be at the highest levels. Some of the funniest stories involve basketball at the lowest level.

My basketball team at Northwest Missouri State University would annually hold a youth basketball tournament. It was a fund raiser for our basketball team. I could almost fill a book with stories of nice guys who turned into bad guys just by changing their profession into coaching. Most of these coaches are well-meaning, usually just organizing a group of players for their sons or daughters.

One such well-meaning parent was a father that was coaching his son’s fifth grade team. They had traveled from Putnam County, paid their entry fee, had the little guys in nice looking uniforms. They were playing their first game at Martindale Gym on the Northwest campus.

I was at Bearcat Arena when I got the call there was trouble at Martindale. One of the officials I had working the game was an MIAA official from St. Joseph. I thought maybe it was an unruly fan. When I got there, I was really wrong.

The father-coach was standing on the court, refusing to leave. He had gotten two technical fouls, protesting what he was sure had been intentionally called specifically called to cheat his fifth grade team.

The officials couldn’t get him to leave the gym, so I got the call. We threatened to forfeit the game, but still he wouldn’t move. Finally, I grabbed my radio and asked the campus security to come to the gym to physically remove the father-coach.

When he heard the word “cops”, the father-coach had a change of mind and headed for the hallway. The man from campus safety and I were getting an earful in the hallway about what a cheat my MIAA official had been when a women was escorted to the hall.

It turns out the father-coach’s wife was the scorekeeper. Once her husband had been banished, she had taken up the cause. My MIAA official had heard enough, issued another technical and kicked the mother-scorekeeper out in the hall with her husband-coach.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg from the youth tournament. The record number of technical for one game was six issued to a team from Creighton Prep in Omaha. That coach never opened his mouth but his players took care of finding plenty of criticism toward my officials in a game they won by 20 points.

There was the time Austin Meyer, the men’s assistant basketball coach, was threatened with gun violence from a father-coach that coached a high school boys’ team located in Belton, Missouri. That coach wouldn’t leave the court either and a technical cost his team a double overtime loss in the championship game.

Violence in the youth tournament actually prompted Campus Safety to add to their presence at the games. One fateful year, we had a bench clearing brawl from two high school girls’ team, one from Kansas City and one from Lincoln. We kicked both teams out of the tournament.

That same year, an organization from Lincoln had three coaches that definitely weren’t parents. I’m not sure what they did for a living, but it wasn’t public speaking. It might have been public yelling.

They had given us trouble all weekend, but it came to a head in the championship of a junior high division. I had another college official on the game. With the score tied with a Maryville team, the young coach protested so loudly at a traveling call, he got a technical. The following free throws with ended the game.

I couldn’t get him and some of the parents out of the gym until I asked someone to call the police. Just about the time I had them out of the gym, they brought in the race card, not to me but to my African American graduate assistant. These coaches were black, too, but they still found a way to almost lead my grad assistant to blows.

There always is an interesting relationship when the coaches and officials are professional. You had coaches like the chair-tossing Bob Knight to intimidating coaches like Bob Huggins, the West Virginia coach. Some coaches look tougher than they really are.

I have never seen Ben McCollum, the Northwest men’s basketball coach, earn a technical foul. It’s not that he’s always pleased with the officials, it’s just the way he treats them. His protests are usually normal conversations where he doesn’t show-up the officials.

I used to take my relationship with officials as part of the game plan. If I had one particular official, I warned my players never to react to a call. If she didn’t call a technical, she would make close calls to punish the player. I had seen her really cost certain coaches because they didn’t realize how easy her feelings could be hurt.

Personally, I had total three technical fouls at Northwest in 13 years. Of course, I didn’t deserve any of them. I talked to the officials often, but hardly ever with a raised voice. I often asked the officials to take a vote of my bench players to see if they thought they got the call correct. Never once did they take my advice, which would make me question if they believed in the democratic process.

Only once did I have an official change a call. The opposing coach wasn’t considering the retired official’s feelings. It was a game in the Bahamas. I had a retired Big Ten men’s official working the game. He wanted to earn enough money to keep him on the golf course over Christmas.

A coach from Northern Montana had been screaming since the game began. About halfway through the first half, several players collided and the official gave a foul to my best player. I called the official over. Earlier, we had a couple of friendly exchanges.

I suggested he had the foul against the right team but had called it on the wrong player. He said, “Really? Who should get the foul?” I gave him a number of a reserve player that was on the floor at the time. He looked down at the other coach, stopped the game, and changed his call so the foul was on the reserve. The Montana coach needed not to make that guy mad. After all, officials have feelings, too.

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