Since last Wednesday, when I learned I’d be doing playoff games this upcoming week, I’ve thought about little else.  Yeah, I’ve got a wife and a son and a baby on the way, and work takes a significant portion of my attention, but I’ve had to promise my wife that I would not spend literally every spare minute talking about  my upcoming assignments, which are unprecedented in my career.  To allow me to keep this promise to my wife, I will instead publish my playoff-related thoughts, in no particular order, here:

–It took me 12 reffing years to get to this milestone.  I think that’s probably a little higher than average, but you know the bit about Abe Lincoln and how long a man’s legs should be.  I won’t kvetch about the time it took.  Besides, a good chunk never get to this level at all.

–Okay, I’ll kvetch just a little.  One friend said that I needed this time to negotiate my way through “the old boy network.”  To be honest, I disagree.  There’s a level at which familiarity and trust are necessary to put someone on a big game, and much of that is built up through time.  So that might look like an “old boy network,” but I don’t really see it that way.  It’s just gaining trust.

–I am quite surprised at the level of playoffs I’m working right out of the gate.  This week, I’ll do an early-round tiny-school boys’ elimination game, a mid-round mid-sized-school girls’ elimination game, and what I think will be two different big-school girls’ games that are the last round before State.  I sort of thought that newbies to playoff games would start with early-round games, probably even non-elimination games (we do most of the tournament double-elimination out here), and since I’ve worked almost exclusively all girls’ games (and no really big boys’ games), that I’d be put exclusively on the girls’ side.  Wrong and wrong.  My assignor says his philosophy is to spread the playoff assignments around among the top couple-dozen officials. It sure as heck looks like he did.

–I’m edified by my colleagues’ reaction to these assignments.  One guy said “You deserve it.  You’ve worked hard.”  And I have, especially with last summer’s Finally Getting My Ass In Shape saga.  I’m convinced I look better on the floor now than I did last season, but I think that the simple fact that I worked so hard to change my body was more instrumental in these playoff assignments than the way I actually looked.  In other words, I think my colleagues were honest-to-goodness impressed at my commitment to get better more than whether I actually did get better.

–Along those lines, I’m learning a little more about how we rank officials in this association.  Part is attendance at meetings, part assignors’ perspectives, part the board, part fellow officials’ rankings, and part the rankings of the top 25 officials.  I learned this because I got a sheet at our meeting yesterday, which is how I learned that I am now a top 25 official.  Cool.  But I also was in a coach’s office once a couple of years back when a coach asked us which officials he should request be named to playoff assignments–he showed us the email.  So, unless my memory is really playing tricks on me, coaches play a role in things too.  And, after four years, most of the coaches on the girls’ side are either glad to see me or comfortable seeing me because at least I am the devil they know rather than my former role as the devil they didn’t know.  So maybe that factored in.

I have no way or proving this, but I suspect my assignor’s view of me plays more of a role in bumping me up to playoff level than my colleagues’ view of me.  Of course, the two are related:  my assignor has only seen me work a couple of times, mostly at camp, so much of what he knows of me must be from partners’ game reports and asking around.  But as I received some big games this year, I felt like there was major trust being shown, and I think I validated it all.  Plus, he really likes my game reports.  He makes fun of me because they’re so thorough, but I do think he appreciates that I try to do them (and everything else connected with officiating) professionally.

–Three of my four games are out of town:  one is an hour and a half drive, and two (two in one night!) are closer to two-and-a-half hours away.  This means my first-ever-long-distance-travel to do a game…and also, my first significant officiating carpool.  I’ll see what we can do to NOT talk about officiating, since all in all, I think I’ll be so wound up that I’ll appreciate the chance to discuss whatever the hell comes up.

–All of this is kid-in-the-candy-store stuff to me right now.

–There’s only one more milestone after this:  a state tournament appointment.  It’s not time yet.  But the older I get, and the more that people in front of me retire or move on, the better shot I have at one of those.

–I can’t help but think back to the moments in my officiating career when I was most frustrated.  For starters, I thought my career was over with my vocal cord injury back in 2001.  I sat out for 3 years and became an evaluator.  But I missed being on the court too much and decided to come back (quietly).  And my cords got better (although they bug me lately).  And I think back to the million times I was told that I “run wrong.”  The assignor who didn’t know the difference between criticism and ridicule:  he told me I “looked like a turtle.”  The way that I couldn’t seem to work my way up in the old association where I used to live.  I wonder if I’d be a playoff official there now?  I’d like to think I would, but on the other hand, the first impressions I had made on the higher-ups there were obviously not good, and first impressions are tough to get past.  Here, my first impressions were obviously more positive, which may have expedited my rise.  In any event, suffice to say that there were many moments since my first game–the day after Thanksgiving 1996–that I seriously questioned whether this day would come.  Two summers ago, I told my wife I was thinking of hanging them up because I hated the thought of leaving for work before my son awoke and returning from a game after he went to sleep.  She said I liked officiating too much to quit, and besides, officiating is the only damned exercise I ever get–so she and my son have met me for dinner on nearly every officiating day since to ensure that officiating doesn’t mean days where I don’t see my boy.  And as recently as after camp this last summer, I had decided that if I didn’t solve this damned running and appearance issue, I might just throw in the towel.  Who wants to go every year hearing “You’re good at this, but you’re goofy-looking, so you’ll never rise to the next level”?  But I stuck to it, and the personal training seems to have pushed me over the edge.  Or maybe I’d have gotten here anyway.  It’s nearly impossible to tell.  But I’m as proud of this as any non-family thing that’s happened to me in years–because after all of those challenges, I feel a rare sense of hard-earned accomplishment.

–My mindset:  still more excited than nervous.  I take that as a good thing.  But if I’m hyperventilating before the first big one on Wednesday, well, I’ll put my hands on top of my head and try to count to ten…visualizing the good games that got me here.

–And if you’ve been reading this silly little endeavor I’ve been at for six seasons and several hundred games, you helped me get there.  I appreciate you.  Thanks.


About Paul Hamann
I am a basketball referee in Washington State, working mostly high school games.

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