Making The Right Calls
By: Rich Maclone
It takes more than a striped shirt and a whistle to be a good referee.
“You need thick skin and patience, and you can’t be confrontational,” local basketball and lacrosse ref Bernie Beriau said.
There are few professions where everyone who is watching you believes that they could do a better job and know your business better than you do, but officiating sporting events is certainly one of them. It’s definitely high on the list of thankless and unappreciated jobs that somehow get done anyway.
“At the end of the night, half of the people are going to hate you, and the other half are indifferent. The only one that’s on your side is your partner, and you’re not always sure about that,” longtime hockey ref Paul Wessling of Falmouth said. Wessling, who manages the parking lots for the Steamship Authority, took up officiating in his 20s and has been at it ever since. He’s also a constant target of mocking from his friend and co-worker, Falmouth High boys’ hockey Head Coach Buddy Ferreira.
While they may not enjoy much love from those who watch them in action, without referees it would be hard to get through an entire game without incident. Like them or not, refs make games run efficiently and fairly–at least most of the time–and they aren’t getting rich doing it either.
“I love it,” Sagamore Beach resident Matt Croteau, one of the area’s top lacrosse officials, said. “There are a lot of good officials around here ... for me, it’s something that I really love to do.”
Beriau, a software engineer/architect at CA Technologies, works a full load of varsity basketball and lacrosse games around southeastern Massachusetts and also does some Division III college lax. The good-natured resident of Sandwich, who began his career as a ref 15 years ago, started with youth basketball games that his kids were involved with because he didn’t think that the games were officiated well enough. “I wanted to give more back to the game and to help the kids improve their games,” he said.
It seems that the love of the game is one of the main reasons that officials stick with their sports of choice. Whether it is being around young people, staying in shape, or just staying involved, most referees can’t imagine life without donning their striped shirts.
Referees are the target of loads of criticism and rarely are complimented for the work that they do. Still, more often than not, they do actually get the calls correct. And, despite what you might think, they have a much greater understanding of the rules and regulations of the game that they oversee than you do.
Certainly officials aren’t perfect, and they don’t claim to be either. “Players miss lay-ups and sometimes we miss calls,” admitted Falmouth resident Dan Patenaude, a varsity basketball referee who also coaches baseball at Mashpee High School. “I’ve never reffed a perfect game, nobody has, but we all try to.”
Patenaude, who began refereeing at the age of 16 and has been at it ever since, said that most referees attend clinics throughout the year to better themselves and continue to improve their work. They’re also evaluated for the work that they do and given areas to work on. “It can be very humbling to be told what you’re doing wrong and what you need to get better at, but nobody’s perfect. We all want to do the best job that we can do.”
Croteau, who patrols Route 3 for the Massachusetts State Police during the overnight shift, teaches new lacrosse officials the ins and outs of overseeing a game. He serves as the training coordinator for the Eastern Massachusetts Lacrosse Officials Association. But, the top lax reffing teacher puts in his time to get better at his game as well. He’s twice traveled to Vail, CO, to take clinics to better his game. “The rules are always changing, and the game is always evolving. We need to stay on top of things,” he said.
Even with loads of studying and training, mistakes are made in every sport, by every referee. “There’s always going to be a moment when you have to explain to the coach, and apologize for (making a mistake), and try to correct it,” Beriau said. “There’s a lot more to the rules than meets the eye...When you’re on the court, you have to separate watching and officiating.”
“When you mess up, you have to own up to it,” Croteau said. “If you tell the coach, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I missed it,’ they’re going to respect you for that. Nobody’s perfect,” Croteau said.
The reactions to those mistakes differ based on the circumstances. Patenaude, who worked one of the MIAA girls’ regional semifinal games last week, said that the worst reaction to his work came in his younger days when he was working “beer league” softball games.
Back then he would earn $7 for working the bases and $7.50 for umping home plate, and that big money did not ease his fear at all after making a call that angered a team badly. “There were some nights where I got off the field, barely,” he said. “One night there was a guy in his car looking for me in the parking lot.”
It’s not often that the referees fear for their safety, but there are plenty of times that they’re told by fans that they aren’t good at what they do. “Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s mean-spirited, but they don’t hold back,” Beriau said.
“When you’re a player, you try to get away with as much as possible, a little hook, a little tug there,” Wessling said with a smile. “But when you’re refereeing a regular game, it’s more of an asset to be deaf. You really don’t want to hear all the stuff that’s going on; you just want to react to what’s going on out there, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Patenaude said that well-attended games are a joy to officiate because even if the fans are yelling about a call, they drown one another out. “It’s the game where there’s 14 people in the bleachers that you hear everything they say about you,” he said.
While officiating a game at Thayer Academy, Croteau was heckled by a fan who, like many who watch a lacrosse game, did not have a full grasp of the game’s rules. “He heckled me about something that happened and I corrected him as I was running by,” Croteau said. “They were surprised that I answered them. He said, ‘Hey, you actually talked to us, could you explain a few more things?’ ” I said, “Sure, just yell them out as I come by.”
More than anything else, all the refs want to do is make the right calls.
“You’ve done a good job when they don’t notice you,” Wessling said.
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