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A View from the Striped Shirts

As the calendar flips to December this week marks the start of the high school basketball season. The action switches from the outside environs of football stadiums to the smaller indoor gymnasiums. The National Anthem and school fight songs will still be played but perhaps it might be a good idea if a recording of Kenny Chesney’s hit record ‘Get Along’ would also be played.

At every athletic contest three teams are involved; the home team, the visiting team and the referees team. Without all three a game couldn’t be played. In part, Chesney’s song lyrics ask ‘can’t we all get along, while we can.’

In preparation for the season I had the opportunity to visit with Keith Cremer, the president of the Lycoming Chapter of basketball officials, to discuss the ever-increasing problem regarding the availability of referees to cover the multitude of high school games. The veteran of 20 years officiating shed some light on a problem unbeknownst to most fans.

“I just love the game of basketball. I enjoy seeing the competition that the players bring every night, seeing how hard they work and the progress they make as the season progresses. It is an amazing progression just to watch and as an official I get to see that from a very unique perspective. That has always been the fun part but a continuing shortage of referees is becoming a problem,” Cremer explained.

“About fifteen years ago we had approximately 80 referees in our chapter. Over the last few years we have seen those numbers steadily decline. As we begin this season that number is down to the upper 40s, almost a 50% decline in our Lycoming Chapter membership. The same thing is happening in other surrounding chapters in District Four and across the state. This decline is not just happening in basketball, it is across the board in all the sports.

“To illustrate that point, in one football game this past season Montgomery played their first Thursday Night football game just because there weren’t enough referees to play all the scheduled games on a Friday Night. There are several contributing factors for that.

“Around this area we try to hit the colleges and even kids right out of high school to try and interest them in refereeing. The problem is, these younger people go to games and they see what referees have to deal with from fans, coaches and players. Inevitably, they ask about the compensation. When we tell them they’ll get about $60.00 to work two junior high games; or about $70.00 to work a varsity game. To a lot of them having to endure two or three hours of abuse for that amount of pay doesn’t seem to be enough for them to be interested.”

For individuals that might be interested the process is pretty simple, Cremer added.

“The first step is to apply online at for whatever sport they may be interested in. Then they would take on online test and must score 75% or better. When the test is passed the individual becomes certified and assigned to a local chapter in their area. Each chapter holds a series of monthly meetings during the sport’s season and officials are required to attend a minimum of six of these meetings. From that point they would be assigned to work games.”

Regarding game officiating and crowd behavior Cremer had the following observations.

“Usually the loudest games are the ones that are easiest to focus. If you have a gym with only 100 people and 20 of them are yelling you can probably hear everything they are saying. But when you have large crowds in full gymnasiums and hundreds of them are yelling you can’t hear any one individual. You can’t hear the coaches and sometimes it is hard to hear the whistles. So when the lights are brightest it makes it easier to focus.

“This year, prior to every game, the referees have been instructed to personally meet with the game manager and go over the procedures for dealing with unruly or disrespectful behavior. Should a situation arise where a fan has to be removed from a game the officials are not to interact with the fan. Once the fan is identified the game manager or school security will deal with the situation. It is hoped those school officials will be pro-active in monitoring any bad behavior before the referees have to address it with them.

“This year, as far as game play in concerned, there is only one rule that has changed. That will occur when a ball is tipped in the back court from the front court. To the fan it may look like a back court violation. But it’s based upon which team touched the ball and when did they touch it.

“Most of the calls that fans seem to get upset about involve traveling, three-seconds and over-the-back. That call is probably the one fans yell about the most, even though there is not a single thing in the rule book about over-the-back. Some folks think that just because a player is rebounding from behind another player that it’s over-the-back. But as long as that player behind doesn’t push or displace the player in front of them they can rebound all they want from behind.

“The 50-50 judgment calls are the hardest calls to make. The block-charge is always going to be the most subjective call. Most of the time they are bang/bang plays that people expect an instantaneous call. If you think about it more than a split second people will question your judgment, but as quick as that play happens the referee needs time to process what he/she just saw and what the rule interpretation is as quickly as possible. Since it is a 50-50 call half the gym won’t agree with the call that is made.”

High school basketball provides great winter time enjoyment. When you go to the gym just be reminded of Kenny Chesney’s lyrics.

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