It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
For long-time officials training a new generation of rec basketball officials Monday night, the rewards of officiating make the tough parts of the job well worth the investment.
With the Great Bend Recreation Commission’s youth basketball season set to begin this week, the Rec brought in three experienced officials to provide a two-hour training course over two weeks to help prepare eight young new officials to officiate the games. Those taking the course ranged between the ages of 16 and 20 years old.
GBRC officials are grateful for the new volunteers stepping up to do the difficult job of officiating youth sports, especially in a season made even tougher by stringent COVID-19 safety protocols.
“They’re going out and doing something some adults wouldn’t even do,” said GBRC Assistant Sports Director Paul Zamarripa. “For these young kids to be willing to step out there and do that, it says a lot.”
Brad Schmitt, who has officiated games in three different sports at all amateur levels for 18 years, noted the state is down almost 400 officials this year in basketball alone. In Kansas, he said, the average age of amateur basketball officials is 54, and the sport is losing a lot of those officials to retirement, so the need to find new young officials to take on the challenge is crucial.
One reason for this, Schmitt noted, is the extensive time and travel it takes to be an official. Being an official at the youth and high school levels means committing many evenings and weekends to travel and officiating, and this becomes difficult for younger adults with families and other full-time work commitments.
The goal of the two-session training course, though, was to teach the aspiring officials more than just the rules of the game and the mechanics of officiating basketball.
The officials who volunteered their time as trainers for the sessions also wanted to instill confidence, a sense of presence, and an appreciation for the profession to the young people, and to let them know there are many rewards to being a youth official.
Bryan Scott, a Physical Education teacher at Riley Elementary who has officiated for 25 years, told the trainees they have a unique opportunity to pass on appreciation of the game to the kids they’ll be officiating.
“You can work with the kids,” Scott said. “As you learn the game, you’re passing on this knowledge.”
Scott calls it his “give back program,” a life skill he also tries to instill in his students at Riley, and one of the reasons he works to pass on his passion for officiating to the younger generation.
“Once you start getting the knowledge, go ahead and give back in some capacity,” he said.
Kathy Roberts, another long-time official, told the students rec basketball is a good training ground for higher levels of officiating, as well. She said young officials will encounter a lot of unique plays and situations at the youth level they will not encounter at higher levels.
Officiating translates to life
Both Schmitt and Scott acknowledge, though, sports officiating in general is a tough job with several unique challenges.
Both say dealing with angry parents and coaches is a central driver for those who are turned away from the job.
“(The negativity from parents and coaches) puts a damper on the joy a person can get from refereeing,” Scott said.
Especially at the youth level, though, Scott said it is important to keep a smile on your face and learn not to take the anger personally. For instance, some parents may be new to the game themselves, and may not know the rules well, and are learning the game right along with their kids.
“Some things, you just have to take with a grain of salt,” Scott said.
At the same time, he said a referee must be assertive. He spoke to the young people about having an assertive presence that lets the coaches, fans, and players know the officials have control over the game, not with words, but with strong body language. But that assertiveness must be balanced with respect for the game, as well as for the players and the coaches.
To be an effective official a person also has to be humble, Scott said. “We’re imperfect, we’re going to make mistakes, you’ve got to be willing to own up to your mistakes.”
Schmitt, who has been both a coach and an official in youth sports, said it also takes patience to be a good official, and an understanding that when a coach is upset, it’s not always directly at you.
“When you deal with a coach that’s not happy, it’s so easy to escalate with him or her, and (officiating) teaches you not to do that,” he said.
The patience Schmitt has learned as an official, he said has carried over to other aspects of his full-time work life, and that is something he hopes to pass on to the younger generation.
“Officiating translates to life, because you learn to deal with people, and how to have patience with them,” he said. “If you learn (on the court) to de-escalate the situation, it works well in other areas of your life.”
Despite the many challenges that come with officiating at any level, both say there are many rewards which come from being willing to undertake the work.
One that many may not think about is the level of physical fitness being a referee provides. Scott said it takes a lot of physical training to be fit enough to be able to endure the high amount of running a referee does during the course of a game.
Scott said officials are also in a unique position to help foster enjoyment in the sport in young players. An effective and knowledgeable official can help ensure the game becomes a positive experience for all involved.
Both also noted that being an official, especially at the youth and high school level, is a good opportunity to build and foster lasting relationships with players, coaches and other officials. They both indicated the lifelong relationships they have built and the chances they’ve had to watch young players grow is one of the things they treasure most about the officiating.
And this opportunity is something Schmitt said he wants to pass on to the younger generation.
“For a high school or college kid, this is a great way to meet people,” he said.
Along with the many life skills and relationships young people can build through officiating, Schmitt notes most officiating positions are paid positions, so it is good work experience for those wanting to take on the challenge.
Despite its many challenges, both Scott and Schmitt say officiating is a rewarding job, and would encourage young people to explore it.
Schmitt encouraged those interested in officiating at the high school level to go to the Kansas State High School Activities Association website. Those interested in officiating at the rec level can contact Zamarripa or Sports Director Aaron Fuller at the GBRC office, 620-793-3755.