In 1987 I was asked to join the Wisconsin Scorers and Timers association (WISTA) an organization sanctioned by the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). WISTA provides officials to time and score the boys and girls basketball games for MPS and has been doing so for more than 60 years.
Do the math. I’ve been working the scorer’s table for MPS games (and college games, too) for 34 years. And I’ve seen countless games.
The last couple of years WI newspapers have reported on the lack of sufficient numbers of high school basketball floor officials. The most recent came this week when Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel included the following in a piece profiling official Tyrone Nichols:
For years the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association warned of a shortage of officials and has tried to bring new blood into the ranks. The pandemic just made the situation worse.
According to the WIAA there were 9,249 officials last year for its sponsored sports. This year, as of Tuesday, there were 7,345, a decrease of 21%.
So there’s a shortage of officials, right?
So, we need more officials, right?
I would say no.
We do not need more officials.
What we do need are more qualified, effective, efficient officials.
Truth is the ability of officials has slowly, steadily declined over the years to where it’s now sorely lacking. I know. I’ve witnessed it firsthand.
There’ve been so many instances I could personally document that they’d fill a phone book. But let me relate just the latest. Follow along as best you can.
I worked a rare high school boy’s game in the city of Milwaukee this week. It was NOT an MPS game since their athletics have been canceled since last March.
The floor officials were familiar to us. When it comes to officials we scorers and timers know them all. Love them all. Happy to see them. But some are just better than others. And generally speaking, today’s officials as a group are just not as good as those 10, 20, 30 years ago
In my high school game this week the first half went smoothly with no issues. The game was one-sided and didn’t appear that it was ever to be contested in the second half.
And then, it happened. The visiting team took a timeout, requesting a :30 timeout. We call that a short timeout. Normally teams are allowed two of those per game. On more than one occasion in the first half my partner, the official scorer informed coaches from each team they had each taken their allotment of two short timeouts. In this world turned upside down by the virus high school teams are now allowed an extra short timeout called the Covid timeout.
So now the visiting team was attempting to call their third short timeout. Not a problem. But I reiterated that the visiting team had called TWO short timeouts in the first half. That’s where things got goofy.
For a brief moment the official scorer thought that because the visitors had used up their short timeouts (two per game) that the timeout they requested had to be a full :60 timeout. Quickly we adjusted and allowed the visitors their Covid timeout (what a joke). But the lead official erupted at the table’s information that the visitors had used two short timeouts in the 1st half. They did as we informed the lead official that the scorer did what he always does: write down in the official scorebook the times when timeouts are called.
The lead official stood at the visitors bench and literally yelled at the scorer and me that no, the visitors only took one short timeout. Since my partner is a lot more mild-mannered than I am I responded and mentioned a second time the visitors had taken two short timeouts in the first half (and yes, that was important).
What happened next was something I’ve never seen in 34 years of working high school basketball. The lead official yelled, and I mean yelled, “I have definitive knowledge that they (the visitors) took only one time out in the first half.” He was giving us crap so I said again that the scorer has it all written done.
Then came a loud whistle.
One of the other officials, a solid veteran referee, blew his whistle and approached the scorer’s table with an angry look on his face. I’m paraphrasing now as he banged his hand on the table:
“What are doing? This is the table. We are supposed to be working with the guys at the table. Let’s stop arguing with the table!”
The lead official stormed away and yelled loud to enough to be heard in a stunned silent gym that he would argue with table “when they’re wrong.”
He made few calls the rest of the game, and never approached the scorer’s table again.
After the game after he changed in the locker room and came out to talk to us in an effort to defend himself claiming he never yelled at us (he did), that he talked directly to us at the table (he actually yelled at us while standing by the visitors bench) and that he had “definite knowledge he was correct about the number of fouls that had been called.
I couldn’t take it anymore. After telling him nicely that he brought the subject up all over again, I said he should have come right to the table and discuss everything quietly and respectfully instead of showing up his partners (the scorer and timer). And the coup de grace was when I said if he could do the scorer’s job (keep track of timeouts as well as work the floor), then he must be really outstanding.
I reiterated that once the game resumed we at the table forgot what happened and concentrated on the game at hand. Everyone went home OK, but I’ve never seen a referee, and a veteran one at that, behave that way (He’s average BTW).
Again, we have a shortage of referees, that’s true. As a result, officials are being assigned games simply to get bodies on the floor. That’s unfair to everyone.