Maine high school, college basketball officials face a demanding season

An official prepares to throw up the ball to start a high school basketball tourney game in Bangor in 2014. BDN File

With the first weekend of high school basketball in the scorebooks, players and coaches aren’t the only ones facing the challenge of a demanding season, but officials as well.

My experience officiating began in 1953 when I was a high school student doing games at the Bangor YMCA and Church League on Saturdays with lifelong friend Bob Kelley.

We did six games a day for $2.50 a game. We also officiated Y Christmas and Y February vacation tournaments and continued to do so while attending college when we also did Bangor High junior varsity games.

We then made the next step of joining the Eastern Maine IAABO Board 111 in 1968 and I’ve been a board member for 50 years.

To join the board, I had to attend classes, take and pass the 50-question written exam by getting at least a score of 43, followed by passing a floor exam.

Because I was also coaching high school basketball, I only officiated college games but did fulltime officiating after retiring from coaching in 2000.

Given that background, I’d like to share a look at how officials meet the challenge of working a full high school or college season when most are also doing other, full-time jobs.

It’s imperative to get in good physical shape for each season by doing cardiovascular exercising, The best way to prepare, however, is by scheduling games during the offseason.

In today’s Maine basketball world, officials can find fall AAU basketball games to do. To get or stay in shape, officials can work summer high school basketball games.

There are also preseason high school and middle school games to officiate.

In the fall, officials attend meetings to catch up on new rule changes and points of emphasis.

Officials have to pass the annual written exam in late November and then attend a meeting required by the Maine Principals’ Association with Peter Webb, Maine’s basketball commissioner.

During the season, there are two required board clinic meetings in December and January along with required annual November and March board meetings.

During the preseason and regular season, officials are scheduled for games through a board assigner for middle school, freshman, JV, varsity and some college games.

This process began in the late 1970s. Before that, schools contacted and hired their own officials for home games. Board 111 was the first officials group in any Maine sport to have an assignment program.

Officials are now assigned games by the board/schools rating system.

Officials look forward to and hope they are selected for the tournaments during February vacation.

Schools recommend 10 officials and may also give two negative votes. Recommendations are totaled and that is how the pool of officials is selected from each of the five boards in Maine for the tourneys.

Officials selected for the tourneys have a clinic meeting with commissioner Webb before the games begin. Webb and/or site officials supervisors then assign the games.

In more than 70 years of being involved in Maine basketball, I’ve been fortunate to play and coach the game as well as officiate, do games on TV and radio, write basketball books and a blog/column, and run shooting camps.

Of all those things, officiating was the most enjoyable.

Where else can you do something you really like, get exercise, get well paid, only expect to be half right every time you blow the whistle and don’t care who wins or loses?

After retiring from coaching I was able to officiate games almost year round with high school or college games in October through March, followed by AAU games through June, then high school summer basketball games through July before starting all over again in the fall.

Even though the pay was good, with approximately $60 for a high school varsity game and more than $100 for a college game, the hardest thing about officiating was traveling alone in eastern Maine to games in a huge coverage area.

Once I reached the age of 76 during the 2013-14 season, however, the travel became too hard and I finally hung up my whistle.

Best of luck this season to those hard-working officials still involved in the game. I miss it, but have some great memories of those days.