So you think you can ref? Fort Benning officials say it's not as easy as it looks
June 13, 2013
By NATHAN DEEN
FORT BENNING, Ga., (June 12, 2013) -- If you yell at Derek Binion because he made a call you didn't agree with, he might just ignore you entirely -- as he's trained to do -- or he might ask if you can do any better.
After all, that's exactly how Binion got his start in officiating.
If it wasn't for that terrible call (from Binion's perspective) that official made while Binion was playing in an intramural basketball game in 1999, he said he may not have realized how much he loved officiating.
"I was playing intramural sports and a guy went to the basket and I blocked the ball cleanly and he called me for a foul," Binion said. "I reacted in disgust, and then he gave me a technical. He said, 'If you can do better, come to our next officials meeting.'"
Binion did just that, and the next time he was seen on the basketball court, he was wearing black and white.
"After that first meeting, I said, 'This is something I want to do for a long time,'" he said.
But like so many others who decide what's a ball and what's a strike, or what's a blocking foul and what's an offensive charge, Binion said he quickly learned there was a lot more to being a referee than he thought.
In fact, it's more like a second full-time job, he said, and it's not for the faint of heart. It can be especially challenging for someone who officiates intramural games at Fort Benning.
Intamurals aren't televised and most games don't get any kind of external media recognition. Ken Wetherill, director of Fort Benning's Sports, Fitness & Aquatics, said intramurals are for the Soldiers.
Being a former Soldier himself, that's enough for Binion. And if anyone is looking to launch a career in officiating, they will quickly find out whether they're cut out for it by calling intramural games, Binion said.
"You've got to put in the effort," he said. "Regardless of who's playing -- you've got to officiate the same way and give 100 percent ever game.
"People say, 'Oh, it's just intramurals.' The players want to win. They want the rules to be enforced."
Binion said he served in the Army for 20 years and is now a computer technician who works at 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment headquarters. He's been a referee for 14 years and apart from intramurals, he said he also calls high school games for all sports, AAU basketball, Division II college basketball and junior college basketball.
So do you think you have what it takes to do what Binion does? Give him a call sometime -- he's also the basketball coordinator for the Tri-County Official's Association.
"You have to love doing it," Binion said. "Your regional assigner will test you. He'll want to see if you're in it for the long run. He'll give you your first game at the furthest point away.
"You've got to earn your way. You have to put in the training; calling games for free … before you can get the whole package."
If so, then Binion will be your evaluator. You may not even know that he's in the audience, watching your every move. Here are some major things he said he looks for:
• What are you going to do when a basketball player drives toward a goal and you're not sure if the guy in front of him had established position before he left his feet -- the classic blocking foul/offensive charge paradox?
"Basketball is the hardest sport to officiate," Binion said. "When you blow the whistle, you've got to make a decision."
That's the most important thing -- making a decision, Binion said. Whether the call is right or not, you have to look like you're in control of managing the game.
"Ninety percent of being a successful referee is appearance and communication," he said. "The other 10 percent is getting calls right and being properly trained."
• But what about when an irate coach is in your face because he didn't like that call you made? Binion's advice:
"If you talk to coaches instead of getting angry, you'd be surprised how they back off," he said. "I've seen some guys give techs because it's personal. If you respect them, they have a lot more tolerance and respect for you.
"If a coach asks a question, I look at him as another person. If a coach tells me, 'Hey, I think that guy was traveling,' I say, 'OK Coach, I'll take a look at it.' You owe him a respectable answer, not, 'You coach your team and I'll referee.'"
• Finally, the third major quality of a referee Binion highlighted was consistency. Set the tone early and stick to it, he said.
"If you call it tight, you've got to do it from start to finish," he said. "The players will normally adjust to the officiating 95 percent of the time."
Know the rules
Calvin Garth, a 20-year veteran official who works as a logistic management specialist for the Dredging Operations Technical Support program, said each sport's rule book contains about 8-10 categories of rules, which can have up to 20 sections each, all adding up to 150-200 pages.
And you need to be familiar with every one of them, he said.
"A lot of people just think we put this uniform on and go out there," Garth said. "It takes a lot of training and understanding of the rules."
Garth treats his rule book like a bible. Since his main sport is basketball, he said he reads a portion of his basketball rule book daily, plus the rule book for whichever sport is in season.
Unusual situations happen when a rule that is often overlooked becomes relevant, Garth said.
"I try to read my rule book every day at least a little bit," Garth said. "If you're not reading your rule book, you can kick a rule. That's the worst thing an official can do."
Garth recalled one instance when he was calling a baseball game and the batter stepped out of the batter's box as the pitcher was making his delivery. Garth called strike two and the batter was upset because he was not granted time. But as Garth had read earlier that day, the batter must request time before the pitcher begins his windup.
Pass the test
Akira Taylor, a 31-year-old target acquisition platoon leader with 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, picked up officiating this year after doing it for six months in 2003. Right now, he only officiates basketball and soccer for the Amateur Athletic Union, but is looking forward to calling high school games this year, he said.
If the in-game situations weren't enough, the Georgia High School Association, according to its website, requires officials to take three examinations -- the Part I exam, the Part II exam and a Mechanics exam -- complete an online clinic every year and attend a state rule clinic every two years. In order to be a certified official and to be able to officiate postseason games, an official must score an 85 percent or higher on the Part II exam, Garth said.
It's a daunting slate for any up-and-coming official, but Taylor said it's important for young officials to learn from the experienced ones -- and they have to be open to constructive criticism.
"You just have to have thick skin and know they're not trying to attack you," Taylor said. "If I apply the things they're telling me, then it'll make me a much better referee."
More than for love of the game, Taylor wants his officiating to impact the lives of young players. Officiating seems like an uncommon route to do that -- as opposed to coaching -- but Taylor said he believes he's setting an example each time he takes the court by how he manages the game and resolves conflict.
"For me, it's about catering back to the young guys," Taylor said. "My goal is not to make money out of it.
"As a coach, you're limited to the number of kids you can impact. But how many kids can I help as a referee compared to a coach?"