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Refereeing Basketball: A View From The Inside
Katie Knight is a referee. But she's also a mom, wife and daughter.
Published: 2/14/2023 1:09:11 PM
Katie Knight
Staff Writer, Broadcaster


It is no secret that across the state of Idaho there is a shortage of officials and referees. This is occurring in all ages of youth, junior high and high school sports.  The referee shortage is already affecting the number of teams a school puts together as well as the number of games played during the week.  But why is there a shortage?  What is the solution?

Here is some personal insight…

I do not referee basketball games because it is fun or enjoyable and certainly not for the money.  Given the choice, I would prefer to play, then coach, then broadcast games and then referee.  I do it because someone has to step up and referee the games our kids love to play or else those games will cease being played.  Without referees, most of the games our kids want to play will not take place. 
I started refereeing youth and junior high basketball games 13 years ago.  I knew the game after a successful high school basketball career.  I am also a state certified referee, so I know the rules.  Some weeks I will officiate 10+ games. There are a lot of fans, coaches, and players who thank me after a game, but I have also been screamed at, harassed, and even followed to my car by angry parents. 
This junior high basketball season, I was pushed to my breaking point.  I was yelled at for every single call (or perceived missed call) by a coach.  I am not one to hand out technical fouls quickly. I prefer to let the kids play and let the games go smoothly.  But I finally found my courage to talk to the coach and give him a warning after 1.5 games of play. I calmly shared I had had enough and if he had one more outburst or yelling about a call, I would give him the technical. 
I felt silly and emotional.  I felt completely disrespected and that I was the worst official.  I was angry at myself because the coach’s outbursts and insults made me question my confidence.  I have 20+ years of high-level basketball: playing, coaching and refereeing. I think I know the game and what I am doing.  Am I too sensitive?  Should I stop referring after this season?  

After these draining couple of games, I gathered up my four kids, including a baby, and headed home to be a mom that has to explain to her kids how awful it is to be berated and yelled at for two hours.  I am a mom first.  I can be seen handing out snacks to my kids and breastfeeding the baby just before the games begin.  I lace up my shoes, smile and try to enjoy the game of basketball.  My children sit in the stands and watch the game, while listening to fans and coaches throw fits about the calls being made.  

Imagine if, as a ref, I yelled back at those adults and parents about how their kids and teams were playing!

Friends have reached out to me and given me encouraging advice: “The coach was the one being emotional when he screamed like that.” “Be brave and confident in the things you do.” “Keep doing what you are doing, the kids need you.”  “You know the game.”  “That is exactly why I or my dad/grandpa/friend/mom gave up reffing.”
My dad, a retired state of Idaho soccer and basketball referee and long-time mentor of all things (especially officiating) watched that particular game that pushed me to the edge.  He said I should have T’d up the coach in the first half of the first game and put a stop to his antics.  “If the coach does those things to a seasoned official, imagine how he will treat a new, young referee.”  I appreciated the support of his comments but wondered why I didn’t T up the coach. 
Maybe next time.

So, as the boys and girls state tournament are on the horizon this week, take a minute to appreciate everyone who makes it possible for your children/grandchildren/friends play the game they love. 

Everyone on the court will make mistakes, it is not a perfect game.  Everyone out there is human. They have personalities, families, and lives, long after the last buzzer sounds.  Be kind. Be gracious. Be someone who steps up and allows the game to grow.  Let the coaches coach and the players play. 
If you feel the need to tell the referees how to do their job then step up and grab a whistle.  The state is always looking for more referees.  

Enjoy the upcoming games and thank everyone who is working at the gyms.  It is a great opportunity for the best in the state to have one more weekend of basketball.


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