Basketball with Wings


I saw something Saturday that I should never see in a high school sporting event – a basketball official appear to attempt to show-up a student-athlete. A basketball official, who is there to ensure the game is played on an even keel, actually try and bait a player into a technical foul by glaring back at the young man after he received his fifth foul.

Never in my life have I seen an IHSAA official literally stare down a young 18-year old student-athlete like I saw in this game. After Kokomo’s Mykal Cox – who had a technical foul earlier in the game – picked up his fifth foul, the official stared the fiery player down like he was daring him to say something. I sensed this official WANTED to call another technical foul. For 11 seconds after blowing his whistle – and yes, I watched a video replay and timed it – this official glared at Cox who was sitting on the Bill Green Athletic Arena floor. At one point during that long 11 seconds, he grabbed his whistle and I thought he was ready to make a second call.

Why did this official feel the need to continue this icy glare? Why didn’t he simply blow the whistle and report the foul and allow another official to watch Cox? Why is he allowed to, in my opinion, taunt a high school basketball player? When did this official become bigger than the game and more important than the players on the court? It was a shameful exhibition by a licensed IHSAA basketball referee in a Class 4A Sweet Sixteen contest.

If a player exhibited the same glare to an official that this official showed a Kokomo player, he would have received a technical foul. I really don’t think this official has any business on a high school basketball floor. To me, it was inexcusable and an embarrassment to the entire IHSAA organization and officials around Indiana. There is no room on a basketball floor for an official to have a grudge against a high school student-athlete.

Maybe this says something about officiating in general. My friend Chris Lowry wrote a column (see page 13) criticizing officials and what appears to be a general decline in the way games are called. But I have another thought – has the game passed them by?

Years ago, basketball had two officials on the floor, set shots were made with two-hands and the game was played below the rim – a rim that had a wooden backboard. Today, three officials roam the floor, fast breaks and one-handed running shots are the norm and the game is played well above the rim – a spring-loaded rim mounted to a see-through backboard.

The game has changed and is constantly evolving. Players are in better shape, play year round and are much stronger than in the past. Gone are the days when football players move to basketball and then on to baseball. Many elite players specialize in one, maybe two sports. This specialization has made for better and quicker players on the court.

As the game continues to evolve, it appears that the world of officiating has not. A 2000 study by Kevin Burke of Georgia Southern University says a high school basketball official reaches a heart rate of 80-90 percent of its maximum at the start of a playoff game, and “therefore, officials need to be physically prepared to handle the physical requirements of the sport they officiate and able to combat the psychological stressors associated with this unique sport position.”

What I saw in Marion on Saturday plays right into the psychological stressors referenced. Kokomo and Homestead were playing a very heated battle. A very physical battle. Heck, there was a three or four minute delay at one point as trainers had to clean blood off the court. I am not saying they were playing dirty, it was just a hard-played IHSAA tournament game. But the officials on the floor sure didn’t seem to have brought their A Game to the arena. To me – and yes, I have been a licensed basketball and baseball official in the past – they seemed to be a step behind and not in-tune with the play on the court.

After the game, it was pointed out to me that only six Kokomo players had fouled out of a game this season – but on Saturday four players fouled out in just one game. Sure, they had to play an aggressive game against a huge Homestead squad, but four players fouling out? And Homestead’s 6-8 giant, who battled for 22 rebounds, was only whistled for two? Something is not right about that, and I think the Sports Journal front page this week is proof enough that the officials let him get away with flying elbows at will.

So now I ask: is it time for a fourth official to be added to the floor. At some point in the 1990’s, a third official was added. Maybe it is time for a fourth referee to help in a game that is getting faster and more physical with each passing year.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the owner/publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana and sports editor of the Kokomo Herald. You can follow Hockney on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.

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  1. Jim Newburn says:

    First, thanks for your coverage of local sports. In regards to going to 4-man officiating crew, it won’t work. As a regional level official, I have been assigned to work games with partners I’ve never met. Partners with different philosophy of officiating and interpretation of the rules. That is the flaw in the system. Can it be fixed? In a word, no. Most officials work with different partners throughout the season, but usually partners they know and have worked with numerous times. Going to 4-man crews is not possible in today’s world. There is no 4-man mechanic to teach to officials, there are not enough qualified officials to fill all the spots for the tournament and schools would have difficulty monetarily to name a few problems. Do I have a solution? No.
    In response to an official staring down a player, it should NEVER be done. Make your call and report it. If the player has done or said something to deserve a technical, call it and report it. Anything more is wrong.
    In regard to the foul problems for Kokomo on Saturday, I was unable to watch the game. (I did follow on twitter. ) Sometimes teams adjust to how the game is called and sometimes they don’t. As a fan, you watch the game with your heart and not your eyes. Any foul against your team is a mistake and there’s never enough fouls called on the other team. Before anyone gets upset, that is the way I used to watch games. I’m sure there are many more fans with the same viewpoint, but most won’t admit it. As an official, you view a game differently. Do we disagree with calls? Yes. Do we realize an official is struggling or in over his head? Yes. Officials are human and not perfect by any means. I’ve yet to meet an official who went on the playing surface of any game favoring one team over another. We are there to enforce the rules and try to keep a level playing field for both teams. That being said, I don’t think any of the officials had anything against Kokomo. As a Kokomo grad, I really wanted them to win.

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