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Becoming a Ref: The First Step

This is part of an ongoing series as our own Justin Meyer embarks on becoming a working basketball ref. It will cover his experience through the process of taking the certification classes, learning the nuances of the position, and eventually calling games.

I took my first baby steps to becoming a ref Sunday, attending the opening class that will end with me as a certified basketball official. I entered this process with no idea what to expect, but now I have a small frame of what will be asked of me.


One of my questions heading in was what the makeup of the class would be like. I had no idea how diverse it would be, if at all. Would I be the youngest at 24, or close to it? Would that be a median age? What will the gender breakdown be like? How many people will even be in the class?

I got my answers to those questions. The ages vary from as wide as early high school to AARP eligible, it’s mostly men but with a few women sprinkled in, and there’s otherwise a diversity in many aspects among the roughly 20 students I shared a classroom with for a few hours last weekend.

It was strange to sit at a desk in a classroom, something I hadn’t done in more than two years since graduating college. There were several papers and booklets that needed to be distributed, and the instructor ineffectively implemented the classic take-one-and-pass-it method. Quite literally meeting in a high school classroom solidified the oddity. Those feelings aren’t ones I expected to ever experience again, and it was a previously unconsidered side effect of this process.

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This week, we’ve been tasked with reading a few of the rules out of the rulebook we were provided, as well as finding a whistle before the next class. Sooner rather than later, we will also need to have all the necessary equipment – approved uniform, jacket and all-black shoes, to name a few – all of which is going to cost. The numbers look daunting at first glance, but the instructors assured the class we would recoup our investment shortly after we start calling games.

My underling and secret admirer, Mark Donahue, is taking the class with me, and he has plenty of officiating experience in other sports, plus is the son of a long-time basketball ref. On the ride home, he translated everything that was said in class, and we made plans to get what we will need together before the weekend. That, along with the “homework” we were assigned, is what I will be focused on this week.

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