• Jeering is plentiful, but referees still answer the call of the kids
Moments after the conclusion of the Benson-Lincoln boys basketball game last week, referees Jack Folliard and Joe Cosper disagree on the call: Is basketball easier or harder to officiate than it was, say, a decade ago?
'Players are more skilled than they used to be, so I think it's easier to officiate,' says Folliard, who has been working high school games for three decades.
'I think it's harder,' Cosper says. 'The level of play has improved greatly, and that makes it much more difficult to call.'
In officiating terms, this might be called a jump ball. At least there are no angry fans, no screaming coaches and no scoreboard keeping track.
The two refs simply shake hands and part ways until the next time they work a game together, which might be a year or more.
Between now and then they'll work with numerous other officials, all of whom will have differing ideas. But they'll be bound by a similar purpose.
'No matter what our backgrounds are and no matter what our views on sports are, we're all here for the same basic reason Ñ we want to be involved with kids,' says Cosper, a 40-year-old computer software salesman by day who has more than a decade of officiating to his credit in Oregon alone. 'And officiating is a fun way to do it.'
'We're not here for the money,' says Folliard, a retired attorney and the executive director of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association. 'We're here because we love the game and we want to be part of it.'
Rules of the refs
During the past four decades, Howard Mayo's name has been synonymous with local basketball officiating. After moving to Portland from Montana in 1960, Mayo worked as a referee for 33 years. For several years, he has been in charge of scheduling referees for the Portland Basketball Officials Association, which has 325 members.
This season, Mayo scheduled officials for more than 6,200 games, including those from varsity to middle school. Most officials worked about 20 games this season. Top pay is $46.50 for a varsity game.
Mayo says he tries to put more experienced referees into games where rivalries are strong. Generally, though, the referees are selected on availability. The same officials rarely work together twice in a season.
Becoming an official for a varsity game involves at least three years of training and includes 12 weeks of winter classes, where rules are clarified and officiating techniques are honed.
Officials in training work middle school, freshman or junior varsity games and are observed by other officials, who write reports on their performances. Even varsity officials are monitored by other officials.
'We have a great training program in Oregon,' Mayo says. 'And we have a strong evaluation program, too.'
Referees are evaluated on a 100-point scale in four categories: general game conduct (which includes appearance), mechanics, coverage and type of game.
Mayo says the ranks of officials grew by 10 for this season, but he would like many more.
'We can cover the varsity games without any trouble, but we could use a lot more officials at the lower levels,' he says. 'The games that start at 4 p.m. are sometimes hard to cover because people are working then. So, we'd love it if we had more officials.'
'Call what's in front of us'
By the end of the Benson-Lincoln game, one statistic jumped out as a key reason why Lincoln won 60-54: free throws. Lincoln attempted 36, Benson 13.
Do the officials notice things like that and look to even out the calls?
'I have no idea how many free throws either team shot,' says Folliard, who also works Pac-10 football games in the fall. 'About the only time I ever look at the scoreboard is near the end of a game, when it's important to know how much time is left and how many timeouts a team has, because that's important to clock-management and knowing when a team might call a timeout.'
'I've heard that the calls will even themselves out during a game, but I don't even know what that means,' he says. 'We just call what's in front of us because that's what we're there to do.'
And the free throws in the Lincoln-Benson game were, arguably, a testament to the aggressiveness of the play of the two teams. Lincoln, needing to win to stay in the race for a state playoff spot, attacked the basket relentlessly. All but two of its free-throw attempts were two-shot fouls, meaning either the shooter had been fouled in the act of shooting or that Benson had committed more than nine team fouls in the half.
And the officials didn't help Lincoln actually make any free throws. The Cardinals made just three of their first 10 on the way to trailing 18-9, then sank 14 in a row. After two misses, they finished the game by making 10 straight (27 of 36 for the game). Benson was 11 of 13.
'One thing about the games is that they're all different,' Folliard says. 'You can't tell ahead of time if it's going to be low-scoring, physical, a lot of (man-to-man) defense or zone, or whatever. That's one of the things that makes it interesting and fun.'
What about mistakes?
'There's a human element to being an official, of course, but as much as possible, we try to do the same job at every game,' Folliard says.
'As far as overturning calls goes, we're trained not to do that. If there's a change in a call, it's a correction based on something the other official saw. No one just changes their mind.'