The Art of Sports: Officially speaking, part two


Officially speaking: A view frombasketball referee the scorer’s table

By Mark Lewis

With fans screaming, coaches gyrating and players making magic with acrobatic moves, it is my job to be the calm one.

As official scorer for Illinois State University men’s basketball games, I get a unique perspective of the game and the officiating crew.

When the officials make a call and report it to the bench, I not only wear a black and white striped shirt, I wear a poker face no matter what I think of the call. The only team I can root for runs the floor and blows the whistles.

We examined the life of an official last week. This blog offers a view of the game, courtside.

As we get closer to the opening tip, my stomach churns. I have kept the scorebook for 31 years, but I still get nervous. What if I make a mistake and give a foul to the wrong guy? What if everything doesn’t add up? No time to dwell on that: It is game time. Coaches walk by with grim determination. Over the years, only one—Tubby Smith, then of Tulsa, now of Texas Tech—has shaken my hand before a game.

Now the intense multi-tasking begins. I keep track of points, fouls, timeouts, substitutions, the possession arrow and who is in the game at any particular time. And my paycheck is the same as when I started 30 years ago: $0

What could go wrong? In years past:

  • During one nationally televised game, a substitute from archrival Bradley saunters over to my table planning to enter the game at the next stoppage of play. However, his uniform number and name are not in the scorebook. That is a technical foul, giving ISU two free throws. Bradley’s coach, a none-too-happy Dick Versace, approaches the bench in an animated manner. He argues with referee Ron Zetcher and me. There’s nothing we can do. A rule is a rule. Bradley’s assistant coach finally moves toward the bench admitting the omission was his fault.
  • Barely 10 minutes into a game, ISU Coach Tim Jankovich is receives two technical fouls and a trip to the locker room for arguing. My whistle-blowing teammates need a little extra security when leaving the court at halftime.
  • In a tussle with Tulsa, a referee hustles back as the Hurricanes quickly move up the floor. Suddenly, ref Ron Berkholtz falls flat on his back and stays there. Trainers, then paramedics, attend to him before he’s rolled out on a stretcher, conscious but shaken with a banged-up elbow and maybe a concussion. The fans, many of whom may have questioned his judgment earlier, afford Berkholtz a nice round of applause.
  • It’s the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament at Redbird Arena. It’s a back and forth game pitting ISU and Southern Illinois. During a timeout, I find I have one too many points for ISU. Frantic, I search the book until I find a 2 that suspiciously looked like a 3. Crisis averted.
  • And this guy sure was not a homer. Following one game, the announcer’s spotter tells me I credited the wrong guy with a basket. It has no bearing on the outcome of the game so I tell him I think I was right. He goes home and pores over the game videotape, just so he could tell me he was correct. Whatever.

….

This particular game in February is fairly routine. A referee calls a foul and tells me it is on No. 23. But the team does not list anyone with that number. We blow the horn and ask the ref if he means No. 32. After a brief consultation with his partners, he tells me to change it to No. 32. It is another case of working together and getting it right.

After a time out, a fan sitting in the front row behind me lets loose with a few criticisms of the officiating crew. “C’mon blue,” he yells. “Call a foul on Bradley once in a while. It’s right in front of your eyes.”

No one from the officiating crew acknowledges the criticism. There is too much else to think about. Trying to keep up with 10 extremely agile, tall and athletic 20-year-olds is hard enough without having rabbit ears.

….

Game over. The home team won. The band packs up. Youngsters shoot baskets on the court where their heroes just played. The crowd files out.

But, more importantly, everything adds up. When is the next game?