Legendary basketball official and community leader Jim Robinson had a dream. Veteran basketball referees Lamarr Sullivan and Teron Buford have made it a reality.
Robinson was the first African American basketball referee to officiate a state tournament game and served as state coordinator of basketball officials for the Minnesota State High School league since 1991. Before he passed away at the age of 88 in December, Robinson envisioned an organization that would promote the recruitment and professional development of African American officials.
In 2019 the Minnesota Alliance of Officials (MN-AOC) of Color was born.
The organization, whose mission statement promotes “professional development, mentorship, advocacy, and relevant learning opportunities for officials of color” came to fruition after a series of informal meetings and a conversation during the 2019 state boys’ basketball tournament.
“At first were just meeting as a group,” said Sullivan, a veteran referee who has been officiating games for 17 years. “We weren’t meeting as an organization.”
That changed during a chance meeting with Buford, Robinson, and Frank White, a retired official and member of the Minnesota State High School League Board, during the 2019 state boys. Basketball tournament.
“We were just talking,” said Sullivan, who along with Buford, was working the tournament. “Then we noticed that there wasn’t much representation of African Americans working the tournament.”
Buford, a basketball official since 2011, concurred with his counterpart and both realized that something had to be done.
“It was important that we created a group dedicated to ensure that members are well prepared in all aspects of officiating,” he said, adding that “Professional development of our members was the focus as we developed the organization.
“We have three key components we focus on,” said Buford. “They are knowledge of the rules, communication, and professionalism.”
Sullivan supported Buford’s statement: “We want to make sure that our officials understand the rules, mechanics, and look professional,” he said. “We also look at film of our games to critique ourselves.”
Sullivan also indicated that MN-AOC meets once a month in the off season, twice a month during the season, and has created Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In addition to Buford and Sullivan, other board members include fellow officials Kevvan Anderson, James Patterson, Jeremy Carter, Kevin Britt, Lonnie Anderson, Robert Crowe and Azzaria Jackson.
The MN-AOC vision statement emphasizes its purpose and commitment:
“Through professional development, mentorship, and advocacy, the Minnesota Alliance of Officials of Color will work to increase the number of well-prepared officials of color in Minnesota, ensure officials of color are prepared to officiate contest from a rules-based perspective, and work to promote a community of comradery and support.”
In addition to its vison and mission statement, the organization has seven group agreements and founding principles it focuses on: 1. Each One Teach One; 2. Rules and Proper Interpretation; 3. Philosophy of Officiating; 4. Professionalism; 5. Unity; 6. Education and Professional Development; and Universal Importance.
Though the organization is just getting started, its impact has grown tremendously with the creation of the JR3 Patch. “When Mr. Robinson passed away, we wanted to do something to honor his legacy,” Sullivan emphasized. “We thought that was very important.”
Buford designed the patch, which is now available to all game officials to wear as they officiate games. He was proud to design the patch for sentimental reasons.
“When I first started officiating, Mr. Robinson gave me my first whistle and official rule book,” Buford expressed in admiration. The MN-AOC partnered with the MSHSL to make the distribution of the JR3 (Jim Robinson III) patch to every official possible.
“We just thought it was a great way to honor his legacy,” Sullivan said. With the development of the MN-AOC and the creation of the JR3 Patch, there is no doubt that Jim Robinson has left quite a legacy.
No doubt at all.