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I began my official career as a basketball referee tonight. Now I have worn the stripes for a year or two now, tweeting the whistle for the Upward basketball league (Kindergarten – 8th grade). This year I decided to make the jump to high school basketball.

Not totally settled on what prodded me into this – maybe this is my 40 year old crisis – maybe the crisis around the belly – or maybe the fact that the stripes are vertical and, for at least a few months, I’ll look thinner.

I’ve been known to heckle and prod referee’s during my younger days, learning the ropes from my friend Matt (I’ll leave his last name out to spare his reputation – because he does have a family) as we watched many a West Texas A&M (oh, how I hate writing the A&M part) Buffalo basketball game at the Amarillo Civic Center (then there’s the story of Matt, me and one of the Bourn brothers, an ill timed gesture…and a beer gone astray, but we’ll save that for later – or maybe never).

For the last month, I’ve been sitting in referee school two nights a week reading through the rule book (did you know there is no “over the back” call?). I’ve also been whistling a few junior high games on the weekends. I though I was progressing along fairly well – until tonight.

Allow me to set the scene – Coconino vs. Tuba City – Varsity girls scrimmage – Flagstaff, AZ. I’m styling, or at least my daughter says so, got the zebra shirt with the tuxedo pants (yep, that’s basically what they are), the black socks, the “holy smokes that’s a loud whistle!” whistle, and of course, the black shoes. To top it all off, or more appropriately, bottom it off, black, well, you get the idea. That was a little tip from some veterans warning me about the hazards of contrasting colors if your tuxedo pants rip in an unfortunate place during the game (cue the wedding video from 1992 and see the sock and pants comment above – another story about contrast from another century). I think a roll of black duct tape is going in my travel bag.

So the scrimmage tonight was 6 quarters, 8 minutes each, with a running clock. If you were lucky enough to be playing Pictionary tonight with family and friends and the phrase you received to draw was, “Deer in the Headlights,” then all you would have had to do was draw me. I’m not sure I blew my whistle until about 4 minutes into the quarter, and that was only to bring the subs in, and my veteran ref shares with the crowd that I should blow my whistle stronger. Now to be fair, all of the veteran officials have been a tremendous blessing to me and have been a blast to work with. The phrase just came out at a quiet moment during the game, and everybody pegged me at that point…if they already handn’t…as a rookie ref.

I went from driving a 2 door Yugo (the 4 door version is a Wego) to a finely tuned Mustang in the span of a week. Junior High boys to Varsity girls is like going from the Illinois State Senate to the Presidency, looking around the White House and going, “How did I get here and what do I do now?” (Yep, I went there). Good thing for me that I have some fantastic veteran ref’s guiding this journey. All he has is a Teleprompter.

I refereed three quarters (1, 3 & 6) and by the end of the sixth I was just starting to get comfortable…and like so many things in life, the scrimmage was then over. I’ve been asked how I am doing and my response is, “Ask me in ten games.” Refereeing is one of the only true gigs that really exemplifies the “on the job training” mantra. Sure, I watch college basketball now from a different perspective, but you don’t get better at this by just watching others. You have to go out there and blow the whistle and make the call. That means getting on the floor as often as possible. It means taking the commitment seriously. It means knowing your place and making the best call you can based upon what you see.

The veteran ref’s ask us newbies to focus on one or two items per game to work on. Right now for me, I’ve got to slow down…slow.way.down when I make a call. Then report it to the scorer’s table. And…I’ve got to trust my deodorant (you have to raise the hand for every whistle – open hand for a violation…closed hand for a foul).

I’ve got the weekend to think about things…as I’m rock climbing and rappelling on South Mountain in Phoenix…before I referee a game on Monday and one on Tuesday. These count…no more scrimmages. No more deer in the headlights. Time to get in the driver’s seat and buckle up tight, because it only gets faster from here. Stay tuned folks…to quote Sammy…I Can’t Drive 55.