COLUMBIA – Yes, the few extra bucks are really nice.
Sure, there’s an unwavering passion for the game involved.
Yeah, it’s a great way to stay connected with the sport.
But make no mistake about it, basketball officiating needs Randy Pierre more than Randy Pierre needs basketball officiating. He’s doing as much as any single individual can.
“Absolutely, I’m doing this to help out,” said Pierre. “When you go to games and see guys who were reffing your games, and they’re still out there, it makes you think. When describing the need, I think the word ‘great’ is an understatement. Some guys are ready to retire, but they don’t because the need is great. Me getting into it was with the hope that it might spark interest in other former players.
“I’m hoping fans start becoming fans again,” continued Pierre. “If they stopped yelling, it would allow more people to become officials. I want basketball to become a game again. If it keeps going this way, there might not be officials to ref games in the future. It’s a tough job.”
Pierre, who starred at Lebanon Catholic as a player, is in his initial season of officiating scholastic basketball games. To this point, he has officiated 32 junior varsity games, mostly in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, and has done about 35 elementary, travel games.
“I’d like to think I’m doing pretty good,” said Pierre. “I don’t get too many complaints on calls. I’ve played the game. I have a tendency to follow the ball, and with officiating, you’ve got to focus on one particular area of the court. That’s one of the main things I’m working on.
“You want to officiate the game you would expect as a player,” added Pierre. “We’re always watching defenses. You want to make sure they’re (players) playing defense with their feet, not their hands. You need to get the calls you need to get.”
At Lebanon Catholic, Pierre was a silky smooth, quick point guard who could shoot. He led the Beavers to District Three Class A championships in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Now in his early 30s, Pierre had been playing men’s recreation basketball up until just recently.
“It’s my love for the game of basketball,” said Pierre. “I wanted to learn it from a different perspective. You can’t play the game forever. Officiating was my way to stay close to the game.
“It’s (staying connected to the game) a huge part of it,” Pierre continued. “You can go home and watch the game, because you want to stay as close as you can to the game. But TV doesn’t give a guy like me that kind of fix. This is amazing. I’d rather be on this side of the game than the coaching side.”
In the spring of 2019, Pierre received two weeks of training at Lebanon Valley College to become a Pennsylvania Interscholastc Athletic Association-sanctioned official. He successfully completed a test on rules and procedures to earn the right to become a referee.
“For me, because I’ve been playing so long, it was really just the basics,” said Pierre. “I already understood all the rules. Now, I have a new found respect for officials. As a player, I never spoke to officials. (Former Lebanon Catholic head coach, Clentimack) Scott always told us to let him worry about the officials. But none of these kids today think they foul.
“(Lancaster-Lebanon League basketball official trainer) Gary Morinchin mentioned something to me about it close to two years ago,” added Pierre. “At thtat time, I was till playing in some local men’s leagues. I’d been struggling with this nagging knee injury. Gary mentioned the classes were coming up. Gary said he always thought I had the demeanor for it and that I’d be a great fit.”
Within a society that seems to have become less active, the need for referees, officials and umpires is great in almost every scholastic sport. When Pierre created a check list in his mind, the positives out weighed the negatives.
“Because I started playing the game at such a young age, I think the most rewarding part of it is the travel league games,” said Pierre. “You get to officiate and teach and watch kids grow up. It’s neat just watching them progress as players.
“The most difficult part is holding your tongue,” Pierre added. “You have to remind yourself that you know more than the coaches, players and fans. You have to tell yourself, ‘OK. Let it slide. Move on.’ That’s the most challenging part, not putting someone in their place.”
It’s called having ‘thick skin’. These days, demeanor – including assertively ‘selling’ your call – is just as important as knowledge of the game.
Verbal abuse leveled at officials can cause a visious cycle. It can discourage people of all ages from becoming referees – no matter the compensation – leading not only to shortages, but also inexperienced officials being assigned to situations they simply aren’t prepared for.
Then the general public is left wondering why a particular official was thrust into that situation in the first place. In this instance it is clear which came first, the chicken or the egg.
“It’s that inability to put people in their place,” said Pierre. “The guys I know (who might consider becoming officials) have short fuses. Doing this, you’ve got to have thick skin. Coaches don’t help. Fans don’t help. Players don’t help. I’ve been around. But I think heckling is why people don’t officiate.
“It depends on where you go,” continued Pierre. “I hear it. I block it out. I tell myself, ‘I studied the rule book and passed the test. I’m out here officiating.’ They’re not. I smile a lot. I laugh a lot.”
A perfectionist and always wanting to get better, Pierre has short-term and long-term goals for his officiating. But verbal abuse also has the power to weigh on humans over a certain length of time.
“The season is winding down,” said Pierre. “I do have goals for myself. I did want to get to the varsity level by next year, but it takes a couple of years. For a long-term goal, I’d like to get to the Division Three (college) level.
“Demeanor is more important than knowing the rules,” added Pierre. “I go out there and I’m all business. It’s a turn-it-on-and-turn-it-off kind of thing.”
The importance of officials, referees and umpires in scholastic sports can not be overstated. Without them, the games simply can’t go on.