Latest Issue

Dwindling Numbers Signal Problems for the Game

Similar to the unwelcomed mid-November snowstorm, the winter scholastic sports season has arrived before we knew it. Coming on the heels of very successful football and soccer campaigns for several area schools, the 2022-23 high school basketball season tips off with a bevy of games this weekend.

As they sometimes manage to do with their decisions, the PIAA has made things a bit more urgent for teams and coaches via their ruling that teams have been given one less week of practice preparation than in previous years. Official team practices could not begin until November 18, leaving just two weeks intertwined with the Thanksgiving holiday before the December 2 season openers.

The reduced practice time for teams could be a minor issue compared to the availability problem being faced by the referees assigned to work the games. At the annual preseason rules interpretation meeting of officials and coaches, the approaching critical shortage was made abundantly clear. With the bevy of high school and junior high school games being played nightly, the possibility exists there might not be enough referees to cover them all.

Keith Cremer, president of the local Lycoming County basketball referees chapter, revealed his group’s declining numbers.

“Five years ago, we had more than 80 officials in our chapter. Since then, our numbers have been declining each year. As we are about to start this season, we only have 38 active members. That number becomes further compromised due to potential job and personal commitments and injuries that could occur. Our officials are getting older and younger individuals do not seem interested, despite continued efforts to add new members. It’s sad but true; games can’t be played without referees to work the games.”

Statistical information from across the country reveals that 80% of the officials leave the vocation as the result of verbal abuse received from fans and coaches.

One new official donning the black & white stripes this season has plenty of basketball savvy as one of the area’s most successful high school coaches. Former Hughesville and Jersey Shore coach Nick Tagliaferri stepped down as the Spartan’s coach last spring and is turning his attention to the officiating side of the game.

Tagliaferri explained his change in basketball direction.

“Ironically, I’ve been kicking that idea around for three or four years. I have a lot of good friends that are officials, and I have a lot of respect for what they do. I knew my coaching end of basketball was winding down. Jessica and I have two sons, Dante, 4, and Branton, 2, and as my kids get older officiating gives me a way to stay involved in the game. I love basketball, and I know the Lycoming Chapter needs help; our game of basketball needs help. I want the game to continue to grow, so I figured I’d pitch in and help where I can.

“As a basketball coach, I tried to do everything I could to help our team win and help our players get the most out of themselves. As an official, you become a different kind of stakeholder in the game. As an official, you want to have as little to do with the outcome of a game as possible. I have always respected officials that have had that kind of mentality. Hopefully, I can become the kind of referee that when the game is over, I can leave the gym, and folks won’t even know I was in the game.

“I haven’t set any specific goals for myself. I just want to help out and grow every game. The local guys in the chapter have been awesome. I worked some games during the summer and some junior high girls’ games the past few weeks. I’ve been asking a lot of questions. I realize I am on the bottom rung, and I just want to improve as we go along.”

Tagliaferri leaves behind a sterling Hughesville hoop resume that includes 200+ wins, 14 post-season appearances, eight state tournaments, two to the quarterfinals, and one trip to the final four. Asked how he might feel if called upon to referee a game on his former home court, he responded philosophically.

“Honestly, I don’t know that the assigners would let me do that anyway. That floor has been like my second home throughout my adult life. But as an official, you have a job to do. There wouldn’t be any sentimentality that comes into play. You just go into any game trying to do the best job you can. If I were to be put in that situation, I wouldn’t be worrying about it.”

As for his best coaching memories, two things were quick to be recalled.

“Number one; is what our former players are doing with their adult lives. Myself, and our coaches, are extremely proud of that. So many of them are wildly successful and have relocated all over the county. That stuff is just awesome, and why you coach. From a basketball standpoint, I think during our time there, our teams were able to play the game hard and be competitive. Most years, we met or exceeded the expectations others placed on us.”

As Tagliaferri and his whistle-blowing mates hit the hardwoods beginning Friday, fans should be mindful that they are doing a job to the best of their ability, and without them, the games couldn’t be played. Officials, like the players and coaches, will make occasional mistakes. But the price of a ticket does not give individuals the right to yell abuse and obscenities from the stands.

If you would like to make those referee calls in real time, talk to any official; they’d welcome the opportunity to tell you how you can sign up and join them.