Thursday, January 28, 2016

Latter-day Saints March Madness

Over the last 20-plus years we’ve lived in six different wards and two U.S. States. During that time I’ve had many church callings including “Stake Physical Activities Director,” “Regional Athletic Director” “Region Officials Coordinator,” and “Assistant Stake Physical Activities Director.” The titles sound much more prestigious than they actually are. The names are all just euphemisms for “church basketball referee.” Based on my many years of high school and church officiating experience, most objective observers feel this is the one calling for which I’m well qualified.

Sometimes, like Single Adults to a Church dance, I show up on Saturday morning and volunteer to help referee because I can’t help myself. On other occasions, someone finds out I own my own referee shirts and whistles and tells the Stake President. Once they find out about my striped secret, a calling to referee comes faster than primary kids to the refreshment table.

Normally I don’t mind refereeing for a bunch of guys reliving their glory days, but there are times when even my patience wears thin (like when I called 9-1-1 to have Brother “I-pay-tithing-and-you-can’t-make-me-leave” ---leave. Or the chair thrower, he also had to leave). Back in the old days you could get paid for officiating church basketball but now it’s a calling–-same work, only "spiritual" pay. Some guys without an official calling get to referee by being asked to stay and officiate the game after theirs. Players quickly learn that coming to the game with an excuse to leave as soon as the game is over is as important as bringing a ball or basketball shoes.

Regardless of how you got duped refereeing a bunch of guys who just woke up on a Saturday morning, refereeing is still an unpaid position in an athletic program that works because of its volunteers. According to; “The Church functions in large measure because of the unpaid volunteer ministry of its members. In fact, this lay ministry is one of the Church’s most defining characteristics. . . members voluntarily participate in “callings” or assignments that provide meaningful opportunities to serve one another.”  

The problem is, not every player realizes that when the referee calls a foul on him, he’s actually “serving” him. Normally, members are grateful for the service of others (free meals anyone?) but for some reason that gratitude doesn’t always extend to the referees. In fact, a few people feel it’s OK to yell at referees for the service they’re providing. To my knowledge, no one feels it’s necessary to scream at members serving in other callings.

But let’s pretend. . .

standing up and yelling out at a Sacrament meeting sustaining (after all, it’s in the same building) “Bishop, that’s a terrible call!” Or, at the Ward Dinner; “Sister Smith, this casserole stinks.” Or in a Recommend interview; “You clearly don’t have any idea what the rules are do you?”

There are apocryphal accounts of members behaving poorly in other settings, but it happens more frequently on Saturday morning in the gym. In basketball, even those who don’t yell at the refs can’t stop themselves from offering unsolicited advice. “That was a foul ref.” Or; “Ref, he’s over my back.” (No, he’s just taller, and can still jump.) I don’t offer advice to players, (“bend your knees, face the basket, stop yelling at the referee, and roll the ball off your fingertips towards the basket”).  I tell players who want to help me to pl
ease wait until I specifically ask for their help. . .  I don’t.

When the Earth receives its paradisiacal glory, referees will get 100% of their calls right (will there be a need for referees in a Celestial world?). Until then we do the best we can. Today’s best NBA team misses 53% of their shots. I guarantee referees do better than that. Any Ward team making 50% their shots would win every game. They never do, but that doesn’t make losing the referees fault. We get most of our calls right.

After referring thousands of basketball games I’ve discovered the secret to winning basketball games—make more baskets than the other team. It’s really that simple. The referee can’t do this for you, nor can he prevent you from doing so. If you score more than the other team you win. 100% of the time.  

Based on years of observation, I’ve come to the conclusion that yelling at the referee has no effect on the scoreboard. Players keep trying but those darn numbers never go up.

I’m as competitive as the next guy but I’m also old enough to realize that
IF you win all your games you get crowned champion of your “Coordinating Council” basketball tournament.  What does this prestigious title get you? A bigger mansion in the Celestial kingdom? A nursery calling? A “Get out of Home Teaching Free” card?

Nope. For all that effort you get nothing. No trophy, no T-Shirt, no calling to serve in the library, only a Facebook selfie announcing your triumph.

In conclusion, I propose the church either bless the practice of yelling at every member who fails to magnify their calling—or universally abolish the practice. I think we referees will vote for abolishment.