This is the time of year when I usually write something about basketball, as seen through the eyes of a basketball official. The state tournament is this week and the games will showcase some of the best athletes in the state.
This article isn’t about that, however, but more about the behavior we see as officials managing a game in a potentially heated environment in an enclosed space with noise, tempers, parents and spectators on emotional roller coasters. Many times the outcome of the game is determined by a last second shot, foul or violation that brings about even more emotions from those in the stands.
Let’s be honest however, not everyone is “into” basketball, wins and losses, state championships etc. So the interesting thing is to see the fans in the bleachers as a microcosm of society because that is most certainly what they are. Some fans approach the game as they approach life, as a willing spectator, mildly observing a contest of wills between two entities intent on putting the basketball in the basket at least one more time than the other team. These folks are content with any outcome, as long as the game was played within the rules and enjoyed by all.
Others see the game as a reflection of themselves in some way. For example, if a son or daughter is playing, the game is a reflection of sorts on their parenting skills, their ability to instill a winning attitude which will hopefully lead to success down the road in other endeavors. Of course the gene pool comes into play also. “My kid comes from good stock and his/her ability to succeed in this sport comes, in a way, from the genes he/she inherited from me or my wife.” The game becomes a validation of “time well spent” with my child in the pursuit of character building and athletic achievement through a sport.
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Not a bad goal when you think about it but these folks watch the game from an entirely different vantage point. Think about it. In one sport I can validate my worthiness as a parent, my outstanding genes and my time spent developing my son or daughter in an effort to “make them the best they can be.” But like the man said, “There’s usually two sides to most anything.” With the great reward of validation comes the risk of being seen as less than. Not No. 1 but No. 2. Not the region champion but the region runner-up. Not the state champion, who few will remember a week after the tournament, but the state runner-up, remembered only by those whose children played the game and perhaps received an award as a reminder that they were almost champions but, not quite good enough.
During the process of becoming “runner-up” many times it is not the student athlete who lacks validation as to his/her worth as a competitor but the parent who is playing the game through the athlete. These are the people we see in the stands desperate to validate themselves through a child who would just as soon play a game they love with no thought as to whether or not it means they are worthy. The person we find with froth dripping from their mouth as they can see no way their offspring committed a costly foul or missed a layup unless the official “blew it.” The person who is convinced the officials favored the other team, the team that was intent on keeping their child from becoming the champion he/she deserved and was entitled to become.
No wonder, on occasion, we see less than desirable behaviors from well-meaning parents. Well, the cold hard truth is that we are not all created equal when it comes to basketball. And those who are created equal when it comes to basketball or life, if driven to excel, will find a way to separate themselves from those who are not motivated to excel.
The beauty of sport is its ability to provide a medium whereby each individual can excel to his/her God given ability if he/she is willing to work. Officials have little to do with any of it. Those who find themselves on a state championship team are probably those who worked harder to get there, had the coach who knew how to take them there and were willing to expend the time to practice and listen.
Basketball officials, those I’ve known for more than 40 years of being an official, rarely influence a game and, in fact, go out of their way to not be the factor that decides a game. The next time you attend a game realize these men and women are just like you in many ways. They just want to be involved in young peoples’ lives, run up and down a court and provide an honest venue whereby the best team on any given night will win the game. If they could officiate a game and never have to blow the whistle for a violation or foul, that would be heaven.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.