As we turn the calendar from 2019 to 2020, it’s common to wonder where the time went. The older I get, the more I realize time is fleeting.
Was it really that long ago that I played junior high and high school basketball, or I was playing baseball and soccer in college? The short answer is yes, but I still have memories as though it were yesterday.
The 40 years I officiated basketball went by like a blur, but I’ve got oodles of memories. You’ve heard of fish stories, right? Well, officials don’t have to take a back seat to anyone when it comes to rehashing and embellishing stories from the past.
It’s funny, but I still remember officiating a JV high school basketball tournament championship game between Hesston and Hillsboro. The Hesston H.S. varsity coach kept the scorebook for his team. I wondered what he thought about my officiating the game, given my Hillsboro roots.
It probably helped that he already knew me as a varsity official who worked some of Hesston’s games. He basically said, “Joe, it doesn’t bother me that you’re working this game. I know you’ll be fair and do the best you can.”
Another time, I remember walking across the court at Collegiate H.S. for a game with Lyons back in the days when Hillsboro and Collegiate were rivals.
As I shook hands with Coach Fiegel, he greeted me with, “You mean to tell me I get a Hillsboro official?” Then he flashed a big smile. I just laughed.
I remember working so many games with officials who I have tremendous respect for. When you officiate, you form bonds of friendship and memories that truly last for a lifetime.
Of course, I remember officiating a lot of games when Gary Melcher was coaching at El Dorado H.S. One year in particular, I ran into Coach Melcher a lot. Not only did I have his team in the El Dorado boys’ mid-season tournament a couple of times, I had him another four times in league games.
We joked about how it seemed like I was following his team around. He commented on how I would get an El Dorado letter jacket for all the time I was putting in. Before one game I asked, “Where’s my letter jacket?” I believe he said, “It’s in the mail.” Yeah, right.
Years ago, schools used to give officials perks for officiating their mid-season tournament. Coach Melcher, who was an athletic director at El Dorado H.S. at that time, ordered what he thought were garment bags for those of us officiating the tournament. He laughed because the expected garment bags turned out to be small shaving kits with our names on them. It’s something I still have to this day.
There are also memories of officiating soccer in less-than-ideal conditions. I had a game at Hesston College that was played in a steady rain. I don’t know if my glasses were a help or a hindrance. I’m sure I missed more calls than usual on that occasion.
Although basketball games are played indoors, traveling to and from games could be dicey, or should I say, icy, on occasion.
One evening I drove home from a game in Wichita with the snow piling up. I was able to get behind a snowplow on Highway 15 and follow it slowly, but safely, back to Hillsboro.
I also recall driving home from a basketball game in Canton when the road was covered in a glaze of ice. What should have been a 15-minute drive home turned out to be 45 nerve-wracking minutes.
Then there was the time I was sitting at home when I got a call to come help fill in as a football official at a middle-school game in Hillsboro because the crew assigned to officiate was missing one official. They knew I officiated basketball, and they figured I could at least be out there to give the illusion that I was a football official.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Wishing you a Happy New Year as you make more memories!