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Calling the Game

The winter high school sports season gets underway in full swing this week.

As a prelude, the high school athletic director was addressing an assemblage of parents passing on information about their sons’ and daughters’ participation. As he concluded, he offered this piece of advice, “Remember,” he said, “winter sports are played indoors, and your comments about officiating or coaching can be heard much easier than at an outdoor event.”

Seventeen years ago South Williamsport’s Keith Cremer, the current President of the Lycoming Chapter of Basketball Officials, was himself a Junior High School basketball coach. Now a veteran official, Cremer recently sat down with Webb Weekly to share his thoughts on calling the game.

“A lot of times sitting on the bench as a coach, you don’t see things the same way as an official does. I wanted to get a better understanding of what it was like from their point of view to see how I could be a better coach. So I took the officials’ test and actually ending up officiating in the same season that I was coaching. I soon realized how much of a jerk I had been on the bench all those times. So I gained a lot of wisdom by seeing things through someone else’s perspective.

“When I was coaching, basketball was a three or four-month season; now it has become a twelve-month job. Coaches and players have a lot invested. As officials, we have to realize this when they become frustrated with a call or non-call. When their team is losing, a lot of the frustration isn’t with the officials, but it’s from the fact that they are not seeing the results that they had hoped for based upon all the work they’ve put in. I think the officials need to be more understanding and compassionate of all the stuff that the coaches go through. It takes a lot for me to assess a technical foul. As long as they don’t make things personal or say the magic words, I try to be pretty lenient.

“Our district interpreter always says, ‘the players get younger, and the officials get older.’ That is so true. The players will always stay in their teenage years while the officials are older every year. It is very hard to convince an 18-21-year-old to go out on the court and expect to get yelled at by players, coaches, and fans. It is a hard conversation to have when trying to introduce a new person to officiating. The most likely individuals to recruit are those who have been around the game a while and perhaps played in high school or college. They understand the nuances of the game and how the game flows rather than just learning the game’s rules by reading the rulebook.”

“The local officials’ chapter numbers 55-60, which is down from about 70 we had a couple of years ago. We are always trying to get new members, and we could do a better job of recruiting. We don’t do any kind of advertising, and most of our recruiting is by word-of-mouth. If anyone would be interested in getting information, the fastest way is to talk to an official before or after a game. There is also a website at with a link directing to how to become an official. You can then choose what sport you are interested in and begin the process.

“Most times, the heckling an official may get is not personal. They are not attacking you. They just don’t like the results of the play that you called. Everyone wants to win, and half the crowd will dislike any call you make in a game. An official can’t go into a game thinking they are going to make everyone happy. That will never happen, and they won’t be calling a perfect game. But if an official can walk out of the gym with a clear conscience that says you gave it your best effort and your calls didn’t influence the game one way or another — that is the best you can hope for.

“The game is as good now as it has ever been, and I think the rules makers realize there is nothing that needs to be changed regarding the core basics of the game. Most of the rule changes that are occurring now pertain to player safety and sportsmanship. It may seem weird that we spend time talking about wristbands, headbands, and the leggings having to be the same color, but it is aimed at eliminating things that may be considered unsportsmanlike or inappropriate.

“It gets a little tedious when we get referred to as ‘the fashion police’. There are limits on how big the numbers on the jersey can be. Any undershirt the players wear must be the same color as the game jersey. It really helps when the coaches take some time at the beginning of the season to explain the rules and establish what their players will wear. When that occurs, problems are eliminated before it comes to game time.

“Just like the teams whose games they officiate, officials hope to improve their game to extend their season into the playoffs. Throughout the regular season, the district assigns evaluators, and veteran officials play an active role in getting out to the games and evaluating game official’s performance. A lot of times they are looking at the newer officials to evaluate their game and to lend advice and help them. This process is helping to get the word to the district assignors that can eventually lead to playoff assignments by the state evaluators.”

To be sure, fans will yell, and coaches will grumble as the officials in the striped shirts go about their duties. To be sure (except for relatives) no one goes to a game to watch the officials do their thing. But like their calls or not, the game couldn’t be played without them.

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