Men (and women) in stripes are not the ‘bad guys’
Hey, Brocotta,” someone with whom I have been known to exchange small talk, called out to me at a recent high school basketball game.
“Why don’t you write about how bad the officiating is?”
I smiled at the party of consternation and turned my camera’s trigger thumb up to acknowledge.
Then, during the halftime break, I motioned for him to come out of the stands and explained to him, quietly and somewhat confidentially, that I would consider it when the officials start telling me how to write articles and take photos.
“But they’re horrible,” he exhorted, to which I asked, “Could you do a better job, considering the pace and emotional ebbs and flows of the game?”
“Yeah,” he insisted. “We both could.”
“Not I. My days of running up and down basketball courts have long passed. I don’t want their jobs any more than they want mine. But I’ll tell you what I’m going to do for you.”
I then tapped the telephone contacts icon on my cell phone and read the phone number of Jim Radcliffe aloud.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“The Greater New Orleans Officials Association’s assignment secretary,” I replied. “He’s always looking for fresh talent. And you’ll make a few bucks to boot, even though the money is not what an official’s worth.”
“Brocotta, you’re no help.” Feeling unfulfilled, he returned to his seat.
A thankless job
Whether they are football or basketball officials, or baseball and softball umpires, their jobs are thankless. They expose themselves to the ridicule of fans who would not step into their shoes on a bet.
If they have anything going for themselves, it’s the power with which they are ordained. Officials have the final word. Once they step onto the court or field they outrank everyone, including the schools’ principals and the hired law enforcement officials used for security. So it is important to have men and women who can keep their power in perspective. And the integrity and conscientiousness of the ones I know are beyond reproach.
These people are not wannabes. Many also officiate college games.
They have jobs and careers. But they give their time for a small stipend for one reason: they are sports fans and want to be a part of the game.
Do they make mistakes? Well, then let he who doesn’t cast the first stone. I certainly won’t stand in that line.
If anyone who wears stripes or stands behind the plate has any shortcomings, it’s the same one we all have as humans. But the mistakes or missed calls they make are the result of a game that’s getting faster and has no replay with which to make corrections. And try calling a ball or strike when a baseball grazes home plate at nearly 90 miles per hour.
I find it amusing when someone who sits in the bleachers 60 feet and at a 45-degree angle away from home plate thinks he can see something that an umpire just a few feet away can’t.
The LHSAA’s head of officials, Keith Alexander, strongly suggests schools pay for three basketball and seven football officials, instead of two and five, respectively. Once district play begins, most districts use the maximum number of officials.
Still, there are principals out there who don’t want to pay for an extra set of eyes. And even the maximum number won’t see everything that’s going on 100 percent of the time. It can’t be done. But they try their best to limit mistakes.
They meet weekly during the season, watch film and critique each other in an effort to get better. At halftime, they sit in a room and discuss what went on during the first half of play and how they handled it. How do I know? At times I sit in there with them.
Calling Ts is not fun
The last thing an official wants to do is call a technical foul or eject a player, coach or fan. And, with the exception (perhaps) of some crews in rural areas, it really doesn’t matter to officials which team wins the game. They care little whether they are assigned to a Class B or a 5A game. The pay is the same and in accordance with their classification.
And speaking of pay, here’s what the LHSAA’s interim executive director Jimmy Anderson told principals at various area meetings prior to the January annual convention:
“(Officials’ pay) is at the bottom of the barrel for Southern states. Let’s bring it up a notch.
“Our basketball officials have gotten one raise in the last 12 years. That was three years ago.”
Anderson’s plea fell on deaf ears. Sixty-one percent of Louisiana’s high school principals voted against giving basketball officials a $5 raise at the LHSAA’s annual meeting last month. They also turned their thumbs down on a proposal to raise volleyball officials’ pay.
So I can commiserate with these people who get little respect. They soldier on, knowing that half the spectators will go home angry at them because their team lost the game.