By Doug Comer
Being a referee is not an easy job. During the season, you are out almost every night, working games and sacrificing time from family and friends all while being criticized by fans, students and coaches. Most think of us as judge, jury and executioner. I see us as test graders. We come and officiate an imperfect game and give the players and coaches unbiased judgement for 32 minutes of basketball. For most, we are there because we are passionate about officiating.
And, believe me, it is not for the money. Not complaining one bit, but you will never make a living reffing any games below the college level. Now, for those you see working the Duke – North Carolina or Celtics – Sixers games, they can make a living from it. But those doing Jerry West and travel ball games, you make enough to buy a new set of golf clubs or to remodel the basement when spring comes around. It is for the passion of being a referee and not the paycheck.
The average age of an official is a surprising 58 years old. And that is a problem as there are not too many that want to follow this profession. Through the years, we have lost close to 30 officials from this area alone and the well is not entirely stocked with people looking to fill those voids.
One of those brothers in arms is John Wickline, who will be hanging up the whistle at the end of the year. With close to four decades of experience, he has worked the biddy-ball leagues through college and has seen a lifetime of plays, which makes him one with big shoes that needs filled.
Luckily, I have worked with him on many occasions, and he is the ref you never have to worry about. His knowledge of the rule book and his judgement is what makes him such a solid ref. When working, you never have to look anywhere near his area and when he cracks the whistle, you already know what he’s got.
Wickline, like most of us, sacrifices a lot when he grabs the bag, whistle and his kicks and heads to ref a game. We have jobs during the day and our game assignments usually begin around 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. That means that we normally cannot come home and have a family dinner before tipoff. And being a great family man, he manages to work 40 games a season, watch his son play sports and see his daughter dance. It is a balancing act, yet he seems to make it work.
Having mentors in any profession can help one progress in life no matter what that job may be. A referee is one profession in which that is a must in order to succeed. Those “green” officials need help simply because they have not seen a lot of plays and are still a little nervous doing games. We all go through that as it is part of the learning process. For me, my go to for help is Wickline.
After a game, I always know that the next day will involve a conversation with him. “Who did you have?” “Who did you work with?” and “Anything happen?” are some of the questions I would get during the call. It is great to bounce plays off him as he either has the answer or gives the advice on handling the situation and that is what having a mentor is all about.
So, in the next couple weeks, Wickline will put the whistle, shoes, jacket and striped shirt in the closet for good. Obviously, we will continue our friendship as it goes well beyond basketball, and he will still be available to helpme out. He will be missed by all the boards he’s worked for, and it was a great career. Thank you, John, for all your help and enjoy your time away from the game.
Now, we must post a job offering – “Now seeking basketball officials, a thankless job. Inquire within.”