The shortcomings of officiating in high school sports is something I’ve touched on before in this column series.
It has also been a subject a friend and I have been discussing quite a bit lately.
Right on cue, the spectacle of the strange and curious nature of high school officiating was on display big-time at a girls basketball game I attended last week at the annual Fordland Invitational Tournament. In a contest between Houston and host Fordland, the two-man crew called – wait for it – 60 fouls.
Yep, 60. Nope, that’s not a typo.
While I’d say that’s giving way too much love to fouls, at least it was evenly distributed, as Fordland was called for 31 fouls and Houston was assessed 29. I did the math, and that’s an average of a foul every 32 seconds.
“How is that possible?” you exclaim.
Well, it shouldn’t be. But those two guys got into a serious rhythm and just couldn’t help but blow their whistles. I mean, pretty much everything was a foul.
In the refs’ defense, I guess it’s technically possible that something (sort of) foul-worthy could (maybe) have occurred on such a frequent basis. But nonetheless, I’m gonna say the whistle didn’t need to blow every time.
In fact, the tweets could have come about half as often and nobody in the gym would have been any worse off.
But my point here is that the situation in Fordland was simply an example of how wildly unpredictable and mystifying high school officiating can be.
And the issue is by no means unique to basketball. In my many stops at various high school sports venues over the years, I’ve never seen consistently good officiating, but I have witnessed countless strange and frustrating moments orchestrated by referees, umpires, net judges and every other type of arbiter overseeing the competitive action.
For sure, if you watch enough high school sports, you’re going to compile plenty of memories of “things that make you go hmm.” There’s the head-high strike in baseball or softball, the pass interference call after a cornerback makes a perfect defensive play in football, the phantom double-hit assessed on a front-line player in volleyball and much, much more.
And you’ll also get to see lots of inexplicable “no-calls,” which are often every bit as unfortunate as the odd and bad calls. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been amazed when a football player is leveled by a block-in-the-back literally right in front of a side judge and no flag is thrown, or when a basketball player is just about knocked into the next county within arm’s reach of a referee and no whistle blows.
Please understand that I’m not complaining and I have not intention of launching a campaign to “stamp out bad refs.” I’m simply pointing out that a high school sports fan’s expectations of officiating must be kept on the low side to avoid dealing with significant disappointment.
And I also understand that high school officiating is the only way it can be, really, because you’re not dealing with professionals practicing their trade, but rather part-timers enjoying a paid hobby during their free time away from their real jobs.
That said, it’s up to players, coaches and fans to “just deal with it” and accept the fact that there’s a major human factor at play in high school sports. In a way, I find that kind of refreshing, because it means the age of electronic gadgetry hasn’t invaded the territory the way it has in big-time college and professional sports.
Yep, there’s still guys and gals making all the calls on their own, doing their best to deliver a decent product. Obviously, that leaves room for a lot of inadequacies and inaccuracies, but maybe we should all remember that next time we see ball four called on a down-the-middle pitch, a foul called by a guy on the far end of the court on a play literally involving no contact or a flag thrown after a textbook goal line stand.
I’d say that beats getting overly stressed about something that’s not even close to new and isn’t going to change any time soon.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.