For more than three decades, I refereed basketball games.
I officiated everything from third-graders to high school varsity. I worked kids’ leagues, adult leagues, AAU tournaments.
On a couple of occasions, I “officiated” games involving the Harlem Rockets, Globetrotters knockoffs who helped raise money for local charities. That, of course, meant that my fellow official and I were the butt of jokes in a gym stuffed with laughing spectators.
From Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day, I averaged 10 games a week, usually doubleheaders five days a week, besides working my full-time job.
Most years, I averaged about 200 games. There weren’t many games in late summer or early fall, but otherwise it was a year-round avocation.
In all, I officiated about 7,000 games, from the Cape to Boston to Metro West.
And then, exactly three years ago, I stopped.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus had become a pandemic, the first real global health crisis of our lifetime.
In the preceding two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China had increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries had tripled. There were more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people had died while thousands more were fighting for their lives in hospitals.
On that night, I worked a couple of games in the St. John’s Tournament, in the quaint gym on Hodges Street in Attleboro. The coronavirus — we didn’t call it COVID yet — was on everyone’s minds because the NBA was shutting down, March Madness was canceled and there was talk that other businesses would shut down.
The next day I was told there would be no games that weekend, but St. John’s hoped to resume the tournament soon. It did not.
I have not donned a striped jersey or blown a whistle since.
So, COVID changed my life — but compared to others, I got off easy.
When games were slowly being re-introduced, I was asked to resume officiating. We need refs, I was told.
But I thought it was the right time to make a break. I had already cut back on games in recent years, and I found I didn’t miss it.
I didn’t miss traveling across Eastern Massachusetts, stuffing a sandwich down my throat between the office and a gym. I didn’t miss leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning, working all day, then officiating games, changing in filthy locker rooms, arriving home at 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night. My knees definitely didn’t miss 200 games a year.
Sports parents get a bad rap; most are all right in my view. I didn’t miss the ones who didn’t know the game or the rule book, the ones who undermined my authority by telling their kids the ref blew the call.
I miss the exercise. A referee runs about two miles for most competitive games. When people asked why I officiated, I usually responded, “Because they pay me to run. Otherwise, I wouldn’t.”
I miss the extra cash. I miss the good games, the good coaches, the good parents.
I especially miss my fellow referees, the camaraderie we shared.
It was a big part of my life for a long time and COVID prompted me to end it.
I consider myself fortunate that’s the only big part of my life that changed due to COVID. My family has been able to reconnect, including at two wonderful weddings last summer. Many relatives and friends were infected, but all survived and few had long-term consequences. We’re all back to work, pretty much back to normal.
I’m so grateful because I know there are people out there who weren’t so fortunate. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for families who could not be with loved ones during their final hours.
What I lost was nothing compared to what others lost.
My condolences to you on this third anniversary.