Print Edition: November 2, 2011
I spent part of last weekend at the Honda Way men’s basketball tournament, admiring a UFV squad that is ranked seventh in Canada according to the CIS. Coach Craddock has put a team on the court that can compete with anybody, and they’re obviously a faster, hungrier squad than in previous years. For the too many of you who weren’t at one of last weekend’s game, know that you missed a real classy piece of basketball.
Well, aside from the rampant lunacy of the people with the whistles, of course. In all my years watching and playing ball I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarter as poorly officiated as the second ten minutes of our Friday game against Guelph University. At least I haven’t seen one since Grade 8, when I was involved in a vicious court scrum at a Catholic private school. “Let them play,” I remember that ref saying from around his whistle as I got curb-stomped by a 300lb choir boy, “Let them play!”
But that experience aside, I think Friday was the pinnacle of my officiating frustration from the last decade. The Cascades played well, and Guelph put up a fight, but much of the second quarter consisted of both squads standing around while the three referees blew sporadically on their whistles – chirping like love-sick cockatoos in the passionate throes of fledgling romance. Every play, and I mean every play, was stalled by a shrill tweet from one of these three individuals in what seemed like a desperate bid for attention. “I may by overweight and garbed in a slate-coloured spandex shirt,” those whistles said, “but I’m still relevant. Just watch me destroy all your enjoyment of this game.”
I admit I’m being a little irrational, but even as I reign fiery condemnation upon those hapless refs, I don’t feel entirely unjustified. I remember one play very clearly: a beautiful drive by Sheldon Bjoorgard, followed by a textbook layup and graceful landing during which he might possibly have laid a hand upon a helpless Guelphian forward.
Bjoorgard stiffens, glancing cautiously around himself and obviously wondering what he’s done wrong. The Guelph player jumps as well, hope blossoming on his face. He’s obviously thinking that Bjoorgard travelled, or pushed off, or said a dirty word, or something, and the basket is about to be recalled. That, or someone committed an off-ball foul, or a banana has been thrown onto the court, or a spectator is having heart palpitations in the bleachers and the paramedics need to clear the gym.
But of course the truth is hardly so extravagant. The foul is on the bemused Mr. Guelph, Bjoorgard goes to the line for the extra point, and nobody outside of that particular referee’s skull knows why. It’s not damning, all refs make mistakes, yet it’s the fifth foul on five plays, and the crowd’s mood is ugly. “Just let them play!” I hear yelled from somewhere behind me, and this time I agree.
The funny thing is, deep in my soul, I actually secretly sympathize with Friday’s hapless officials. I worked at a basketball summer camp for middle school kids through parts of July, and one of my duties was that of referee, despite that fact that I coached one of the teams and therefore was inherently biased. However much I profess fairness in theory, I admit that whenever my “Black Mambas” played the hated “All-Stars,” I may have been a little less than impartial. Frankly, I think impartiality was beyond my humble skill, as the sheer number of infractions those kids committed was utterly confounding. I often had to choose to call certain fouls and ignore others, an unfortunate hypocritical reality which forces me to admit to the following:
I love criticizing referees, yet I am a terrible ref. I complain about refs being biased, blind, incompetent, yet give me a whistle and I immediately surpass their ineptitude. I just wrote five paragraphs slamming three individuals I have never met personally, for attempting a job which I am entirely ill-equipped to perform myself. Ultimately, my refereeing is probably the only reason my “Black Mambas” won half their games, which is not only cheating, but also doing so in front of a bunch of impressionable children.
Yet even I wouldn’t have been crazy enough to call a foul on Mr. Guelph, some things just cross the line.