If basketball players are often asked to work on their game during the off-season, why not basketball officials? Thirty officials worked Tubby Smith’s three-day boys’ basketball team camp at the University of Minnesota last week, including veterans and those newer to the profession. Nearly half the group was African American, many of them there to develop their skills with help from more experienced colleagues.
“What I tried to do this year was to find as many African American officials that I could find who were willing to referee in this [28-team] tournament,” Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Supervisor of Officials Jim Robinson disclosed during a break last Friday. “The thing that happens is that there are so many games going on around the metropolitan area, so our African American guys have an opportunity to referee many games in many different places.”
However, the ones who did participate in Robinson’s officials camp, rather than referee at other area games, learned to better officiate games by getting immediate feedback on their game mechanics from veteran officials and seeing themselves work during video breakdown sessions (just as NBA officials routinely do).
“What I tried to do is to put them in a position whereas Tubby Smith could see them,” noted Robinson. “Then he could see that we have some up-and-coming African American officials who can referee.”
“Who knows, some of these guys could end up in the Big Ten,” said Smith. “It also helps these coaches get to know these officials, and the officials get to know the coaches.”
Kevin Britt of Apple Valley was among the Black participants at last week’s camp. His father Carl Britt was a longtime basketball official and among the first Blacks to work Big Ten football games before retiring and moving out west. “I’m just trying to become a better official,” said Kevin, who will begin his third year as a referee.
Retired official Mike Bronson, who worked high school games for 25 years and officiated college games for 18 years, mainly evaluated consistency by the officials. “If we get a call on one end, we need to have that same call on the other end,” he explained.
“You are going to miss some calls, and coaches know that,” Bronson said. “But if you are out there working hard [and] get in the right position to make the proper call, I can work with you.”
“I’m looking for hustle, position and mechanics,” added Ralford Dixon. “We teach them that once we show you what the proper things are to do, it’s up to you to make them habits so that you carry them into the season.”
Both Bronson and Dixon were among six Black evaluators “hand picked” by Robinson. “There are approximately 2,000 persons in the state of Minnesota who referee high school basketball,” Robinson said, adding that only 50 or so are Black. Not all are registered with the High School League, he said. “I would say a total of maybe 20 [MSHSL-registered Blacks].”
He added that there might be 30 Black officials that he knows or sees with potential, “but [they] do not take the time, don’t spend the effort to become better officials or to even want to work at the high-school level. They think working AAU basketball or the summer leagues is the glory of what they do. But once you begin to work at the high-school level, you are on your way to bigger and better things.”
“I really appreciate what Mr. Robinson has done in conducting their clinic here,” said Tubby Smith, “because it adds an element to our camp. Just like the players out here working on their game and the [high-school] coaches out here sharpening their skills, the officials are doing the same thing.”
Robinson expressed his frustration in finding more Black officials: “Most of them have this big thought, ‘I don’t want to pay the price.’ The price is to go to camps, go to clinics, get out there and do other things other than just referee. They have the opportunity to work at the highest level possible, which would be the NBA.”
He wonders how he can convince more Black males and females even as young as high-school-aged “to just get involved and blow the whistle” as officials. They could eventually work “a good high school schedule and a good collegiate schedule,” Robinson believes.
Young officials must get the experience in order to understand “the game within the game,” Robinson pointed out. He said he won’t stop trying: “We do have some people willing to pay the price.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.