From Basketball Court to Hallway – The Journey Continues

Both Joshua and Kristie tried out for their school basketball teams.  Both failed to make it.  But they both wanted to play, so we were left with Jr. Jazz basketball through the recreation centers.   Andrew was signed up as well since he wants to do everything his older brother does.

Andrew – Kindergarten

So we started practices this week and today was the first set of games.   Andrew was at 9am this morning.   He is in Kindergarten, and his is in an “instructional” league.   They only meet 1x per week for an hour on Saturday mornings.  They do 30 minutes of instruction with their coach and a 30 minute game with another team.

It was totally awesome.  Both boys and girls were all smiles (and some confused looks) when the game started.  It was mayhem of the best kind.  Most of the kids tried to dribble, but some didn’t bother.  Two of Andrew’s teammates were bigger than all the others and got quite a few rebounds.  They would just grab the ball and sprint to the other end of the floor, no dribbling attempted, and throw up some monster heave at the hoop.  And of course there was the sliding, jumping on balls, an occasional mild push (nothing serious or with ill intent).  They were just having fun playing “monkeyball” as we called it as teenagers.

The officials were awesome as trainers.  They were helping kids understand how to throw in the ball from the sidelines, telling them to dribble, and coaching them about game play.  At one point they did blow the whistle on one of the big kids and explained he needed to dribble when moving with the ball, and then gave him the ball back.

Others were more skilled and would dribble and take some good shots.  Andrew was one of these and scored a few times.  I told him on one trip down to try passing, and he ended up with his first assist by passing to the other kid who seemed to have some skill/experience.

To help the kids on defense they gave them all colored wrist bands.  Each player on one team had a different color, and it corresponded with the same color on an opponents wrist.   So if you had the blue band, you guarded the player on the other team with blue.   It was a cool coaching aid.

The kids had a blast, got to practice some skills, gained some hands on experience, and had good instruction from coaches and officials.  It was a grand time for everyone!

Kristie – 6th Grade

Kristie’s game was at noon at a different location.  Hers is a “competitive” league and they play four 8-minute quarters.  They got the schedules and team rosters on Monday and practiced once this week.  It was the same for everyone, so no team had a ton of time to practice before games started.

Both teams only had 5 girls.  (Kris actually only had 4, but another girl there saw them short handed and jumped in to play).  This game was much less of a “blast” and for the first time ever, I got thrown out of a youth sports event.

Getting Thrown Out

These girls are not Kindergarteners.  Next year they will all be trying out for middle school teams if they want.  They aren’t here for “instructional league.”  And yet the officiating was EXACTLY the same as for Andrew’s game.

There were absolutely NO fouls, traveling, or other such calls made in the first half.  The officials, two teenagers, did nothing but call possession when the ball went out of bounds and call a few jump balls when girls got tied up.   One of them was never even in position under the basket … he simply wandered around aimlessly, often giving us two officials up near mid-court.  He also seemed too scared to blow his whistle; the other one would make possession calls from across the court at times.  

When this officiating incompetence became clear to me near the end of the 1st quarter, I started talking to the official as he came by.  At first it was the wanderer.   He was right in front of me when I said, “You know they play sloppy like this because you let them.  If you’d blow that whistle they could learn to play better.”

Not even a response from him.  Not a word or a look in my direction.  He was happy to ignore me, ignore the game, and just get a paycheck for being there.  He was a lost cause.

About midway through the 2nd quarter they finally moved around enough to have the other official (who at least wasn’t afraid of his whistle) come past me.  To him I asked, “How are they supposed to learn to play the right way if you keep letting them play it wrong?”   He at least looked at me.  He replied, “Hey man, just leave me alone.”

Um, no.  I responded again, “Even on our team, could you call a foul, travel, anything?  Call it on my daughter, but call SOMETHING.”

“They aren’t doing anything wrong though.  I don’t want to hear another word from you.”

Nothing wrong?  I know Kristie had traveled at least half a dozen times, double dribbled twice, and committed who knows how many fouls.  Every girl out there was the same.  Pushing like crazy, hacking arms, walking all over with the ball, sliding every time they stopped.   It was bedlam much like Andrew’s game, ONLY THESE WERE 6TH GRADERS!!!  I was having none of it.

“You don’t see anything wrong?  You should be ashamed to get a pay check for this!”   **WHISTLE BLOWS**  He T’s me up to the desk and throws me out.   The second the whistle blew I was on my feet and walking out but told him one more time, “Ashamed.  You should be ashamed to get paid for this.”

My Expectations

I completely understand not seeing a foul, missing a travel, etc.  That happens.  I officiated high school games in Arkansas and it has happened to me.  Especially with only 2 officials instead of 3.  This wasn’t the case though.  These two had either made a decision to call nothing, or were incapable of seeing what was obvious and calling it.

I expect 6th graders to be officiated to a higher standard than Kindergarteners.  I’ll use Kris as my example, but it applies to every girl there as well.  How is Kris supposed to get better playing like that?

How does she learn NOT to travel if she isn’t penalized for doing it?  She won’t even recognize that what she is doing is wrong if it is allowed to happen.  Same with dribbling, carries, double dribble, etc.

And defense?  How will she learn to play good defense if she is allowed to play bad defense?   She won’t develop the instinct not to hack someone’s arm if the whistle isn’t blown.  They won’t learn good defensive posture and positioning if they learn that it works just fine to hang on somebody.  It is the officiating that teaches them where the line is between acceptable actions and penalties.

Kris will try out for the middle school team next year.  If she shows up and has been used to the standard of being able to travel, she will surely do it and be judged poorly by a coach.  Calling fouls and penalties on MY DAUGTHER will make her better. PLEASE DO IT!

And what about the highly skilled player?  You are robbing that one too.  If Kristie develops a killer cross over and pull up shot in the lane, she is robbed if the defender is allowed to hang on her as she changes direction to go by.  Kris would then learn by experience that the skill she worked to develop DOESN’T work, because the official allowed the defender to stop it without penalty.   So she doesn’t develop and her learning is stunted.

When bad officiating is present both the skilled and unskilled are penalized and will fail to improve.  What might be acceptable for Kindergarteners and some older grades should definitely be gone by the time they reach 6th.   This was worse than the 3rd/4th/5th grade games I officiated back East.   Just disgraceful.

Ejection Rescinded

So I sat in the hallway and watched the game through the open gym door.  At  halftime the official came to talk to me.   I explained to him what I just explained above.  He explained that he didn’t want to be yelled at.  I told him I hadn’t yelled.   I asked if I could come back in.  He said “Fine, but I don’t want to hear anything.”   Fine.

He walked in and then walked to the other court (behind a giant curtain).  When he came back he was with an older man in a green striped shirt.  He came walking over to me.

“Are you going to throw me out too?” I asked.

“Throw you out?  No! I’m the site supervisor though, would you tell me what is going on.”  So I told him about the utter lack of officiating, of my “be ashamed” insult, and of my expectations for players this age.  I also told him that when I pay to enter the league that I expect them to use that money for competent officials.

He totally agreed with me on expectations.  He said he would watch the game and see if he could see what I was describing.  When we were finished, he disappeared for most of the 3rd quarter but stuck his head around the giant screen a few times to watch for a moment.   During a time out on the other court he came over again and asked me about it.  I told him, still not one foul call.  I said one girl on our team lost control of her dribble at mid court and bounced it over her shoulder where it rolled down her back, she turned and picked it up and kept dribbling, all with no call made.   He looked aghast.   Nothing had changed.

Improvement… but still WOW!

So he made a change.  He took over the table at our game and sent the other kid to the other court.   During the last quarter break he talked to the officials and I could see he was trying to train them a bit.

To start the 4th, nothing had changed.   This supervisor had to call out from the table a few times, “That was a travel, you HAVE to call that.”   His presence and officiating from the table was the only thing that made it bearable in the 2nd half.   They were forced to at least LOOK like they were trying since the boss was there.

The one official that threw me out actually got better.  He called a few travels, and 2 fouls in the 4th quarter.  He might have hope with some training and experience.  The other was just as hopeless as the first half.   He wasn’t in position to see the plays, and he never blew his whistle except for possession calls when the ball went out of bounds.  He seemed like he was trying because the supervisor was there, but just didn’t have ANY idea how a basketball game should be played.  It was that or he just really didn’t care at all.

Afterward the supervisor came to me again.  He said that he has to write evaluations and a report after each day.   I had to provide my name and such so it could be recorded I was thrown out.  He said he will make sure there are improvements for next week and going forward.  He didn’t apologize for officiating being as atrocious as it was, but he did agree that it was unacceptably poor.

Joshua – 8th grade

Josh’s game was at 3pm at yet another location.  This team is largely made up of Joshua’s friends at school.   One of their Dad’s is coaching, but he told me, “I don’t know anything about basketball.”  So he is listed as being in charge, but he told me to please take over and help.  So now I’m unofficially coaching Joshua’s team.

This game was great.  Officials were good.  They missed calls of course, everyone does.  But they knew the game and made it fair.   The teams were fairly close in ability too.  Both teams have a couple of decently skilled guys, and a handful of question marks.   But even the question marks have decent skills and largely know the rules by this age.

The other team had one main scorer but it turned out Josh was able to shut him down.  The few times Josh had to come out for rotation of substitutes this guy would score and they’d take the lead.  Josh would come back and his scoring would stop and we’d take the lead.  It was fairly back and forth like this.

We were down 5 with about 3 minutes to go when I told the coach, “We’re at the point now that if you want to win we need to put Josh, Dallen, and Jarren back in.”   So he did.   The other team stopped scoring and with 25 seconds left we took a 1 point lead.  Josh fouled their decent player (and only other scorer) with 8 seconds to go.   Luckily he missed both (after making both shots on his previous trip to the stripe).  Our boys couldn’t handle the rebound though, and it was fumbled and ended in a jump ball, opponents possession.   2 seconds left and they called timeout.   They were given directions to not allow anything inside and to harass the scorer.   They got a pass in to another player who missed badly as time expired.   An exciting game made better by victory.

I made a point of shaking the officials hands and telling them good job.  I did rag one about a (correct) moving screen call though.  Who calls that in Jr Jazz?


I got ejected (kind of) from a youth sporting event.   I deserved it, but I wasn’t wrong either.

I’m not sure what to think of the fact that the boys had competent refs but the girls didn’t.   Was it a fluke that they had two bad refs? Or has Marv Jensen decided girls don’t deserve the same quality as the boys do?  I sure hope that isn’t it and assume it isn’t.

My other interactions with Marv Jensen Rec Center have all been positive with quick correction to the few errors made, so I hope that this is remedied as well.  ALL the kids deserve competent officials regardless of age or sex.  It is something I expect to receive as a customer paying outlandish prices.  And of the 6 officials I saw today 4 of them were great.

I’m sure I should conclude I was wrong to be insulting.   I was.  My characterization of their performance was spot on, but I could have left out the insult.

I’m glad I spoke up though.   The supervisor would have had no idea how bad things were otherwise.  Sure, he might have heard a complaint about bad officiating, but every official hears that.   But my being ejected drew enough attention for him to see it for himself and to realize it wasn’t a hollow complaint.  Hopefully it will spur some training (or firing) so that the customers (the kids) can get the most out of their experience.