Officials try hard but are not perfect

Officials aren?t perfect. It?s not for lack of effort. More people are working harder than ever before to help officials improve, even those of us who have been officiating for 34 years.

At least one high school league in Kansas uses evaluators to observe the performance of officials. That report gives the officials an unbiased view of how they performed and can be used as a learning tool.

Officiating camps are now the norm. Unfortunately, most camps are geared toward officials interested in working college basketball. More camps are needed for novice officials who want to learn the game and officiate at the high school level.

And camps won?t solve everything. You can teach an official the proper mechanics, but a camp can?t duplicate the atmosphere of calling a game in a crowded gym when emotions are running high and the coach is challenging your call. Some things can only be learned through experience.

At the major college and professional sports level, improved technology and the realization that officials aren?t perfect have led to replays playing a significant role, especially in football.

Many believe there?s no shortage of officials, just good officials. When I was officiating college basketball, one coach in the KCAC only approved a short list of officials for his games. The supervisor of officials re-sent the complete list to him and suggested that he try again, indicating that it wasn?t fair to have only six to eight officials work all of his games when almost every coach wanted those same officials.

In one area of Kansas, there?s not just a shortage of good officials, there?s a shortage of high school varsity basketball officials, period.

Northwest Kansas League Commissioner Jim Keenan says there are just seven crews of officials signed up to work every varsity game in the 16-county area this season. And three or four crews are on the verge of retiring.

Keenan says a decline in sportsmanship among basketball fans in the area has been a big reason for the decrease in officiating crews.

When I started officiating, a number of veteran officials encouraged me and helped me improve. I was like a sponge, soaking up all the knowledge and information I could. It was years before I worked my way up to a varsity high school and college schedule. Prior to officiating camps, for better or worse, you learned on the job.

Each league or conference has the authority to hold its officials to standards it decides. Naturally, the standards are higher at the major college and professional level where the scrutiny is far greater.

At the small-college and high school level, a supervisor of officials hires and fires officials, but the options are limited. A supervisor can seek the input of coaches, administrators and other officials, but no one has the time and resources to critically evaluate every official.

High schools and small colleges struggle to offer adequate compensation. The pay scales are modest at best, and pay increases aren?t keeping up with rising gas prices.

At the high school level, most men and women officiate for the love of the game and an opportunity to stay involved in athletics. It?s not what they do for a living.

I?m all for trying to improve. The day I stop trying to get better is the day I need to stop officiating. But the fact is that imperfect officials are calling games played by imperfect players who are being coached by imperfect coaches.

Here?s a scary thought: If it weren?t for all these efforts at improvement, just think how bad things might be.

To quote Winston Churchill, ?They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they?d make up their minds.?

I also like what Geoffrey F. Fisher was quoted saying: ?When you aim for perfection, you discover it?s a moving target.?

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