I was AWOL yesterday. I scheduled my annual medical check-up so that it slotted into my blogging and bike racing time and thus missed both. For some reason thought I might be able to get something written at lunch, but half of my hour is taken up with transportation, half with lunch and the third half with house discussions with Lynn. I doubt you missed much.
When I started as a sports editor I didn’t know much about sports. I didn’t particularly enjoy the soccer or tennis lessons I tried through the rec department as a child, was not about to spend as much time in a pool as the summer swim club required. I did like to ski, but wasn’t very fast. In middle school I ran track and I tried one year of basketball, but in the entire season I played no more than three minutes in one game (I don’t think I was that terrible, but obviously the coach, who even while I was on the floor wanted me to stay in the back court, didn’t want me in the program).
And I didn’t start my career at the Gunnison Country Times planning to be a sports reporter. I slid into it completely sideways because no one else was doing it and those that tried were failing so badly it seemed like I couldn’t do any worse. As part of getting myself informed to do my new job properly, I signed up for a volleyball officiating class at Western Then State Then College.
In hindsight, a “theory of volleyball” class probably would have been more useful, had one been offered, but I did learn the rules and some basic mechanics of the sport. And I did better at this than middle school basketball: when Virginia Harris, the teacher who was also the college’s volleyball coach, staged her varsity-alumni scrimmage, she asked Mary Campbell and I, out of everyone in the class, to officiate.
Well, Mary Campbell is now Mary Nordberg and she is currently the athletic director at Gunnison Middle School, and this afternoon I am headed her way to start yet another season of middle school volleyball officiating. I keep telling her I’d like to retire, but she keeps disbelieving me.
What I can’t tell you is when I started my middle school officiating. I don’t even remember when I took that class at WSC/WSCU/WCU, although it must have been in the mid-’80s. Sometime after that Patt Bromley, then the middle school athletic director (AD), needed officials and decided I could be one. Perhaps it was when Kerry Mulholland was one of my co-workers at the paper, because I recall the two of us working as a team for a game day that required the use of every gym in town.
And Kerry made a fateful statement that day that has led to me being the most specialized official you are ever going to find: “You have to be down,” she said.
Volleyball has two officials (and usually two line judges, although at the middle school level that’s pretty hit or miss). Both of the officials stand near the net; one of them goes up on a stand to watch the top of the net and direct play, while the other remains at floor level near the scoring table and tracks substitutions and rotation. That’s what Kerry didn’t want to do that I got stuck with. And that’s where I’ve stayed, through all these years. Closing in on 30 years, I must be, and never once at the top of the net.
I’ve become a rotation expert, although occasionally I spend more time than I should puzzling out who is supposed to be front and who is supposed to be back, and there was that one year when Patt decided she had one superstar player who needed to do everything and got positively Machiavellian in order to keep that player in the middle of the floor for all six rotations.
My favorite years were those when I had a steady officiating partner. Kerry I think only did it that one time and hastily excused herself from further duty. At some point I settled into routines with two different people, Craig Cooper and Fran Carricato, and I still miss their steady, reliable presence when I take the court without them.
Coop started teaching perhaps a year after I started at the newspaper, and he’s usually coaching any number of sports, but for several years there he officiated volleyball with me. He retired from teaching a few years back, but I keep telling him he sucks at retirement, because every time I turn around he’s back at a school doing something, including coaching seventh-grade volleyball as he has done the last few years.
At some point when he moved to coaching, Fran took his place. Fran, no longer with us, was the mother of my classmates John and Vicci. She started as a substitute teacher, and I recall being in junior high (as middle school was called in the dark ages) when she put her hand on a thumbtack, swore instinctively, and immediately clapped her hand over her mouth.
She ended her school stint as the librarian, and in between she was not only my officiating partner, but she and her husband Otto would sit next to me at high school basketball games right behind the score table, helping me with my stats. Fran talked lots; Otto rarely said a word, but he passed along any number of candies to me over the years. Their daughter Vicci and son Tom were frequently officials for these basketball games, and Fran had a “We love the ref!” sign she’d made that she would flash when they came over to the table to call fouls.
On the volleyball court Fran probably inspired great confidence when she would peer near-sightedly across the court, trying to see how many fingers I was holding up to announce the number of time-outs each team had used. If Gunnison’s opponent happened to be Crested Butte, Fran, a native of that town, would lead bewildered girls in the Rangers’ fight song.
[Crested Butte hasn’t been the Rangers since the ’50s. After the coal mines closed CB’s high school shut down as well, and when one re-opened in the 1990s, the teams became first the Huskies and then the Titans. So girls today know “Titan up!” but not the Ranger fight song. None of these details gave Fran any pause at all.]
Nowadays my officiating partner is whoever Mary can dredge up. On good days it’s one of the Nelsons, Kevin or Jeanene; other times it’s someone giving this a try for the first time. I have no idea what’s going on this afternoon, and I’m not sure Mary does either, because I wouldn’t even know that I was scheduled except that she came into the shop yesterday and Kara asked.
So I guess I’ll dig up my whistle and dust it off, hope I have some notecards I now use to track rotations, and further hope there haven’t been any significant rule changes I don’t know about. The game has changed pretty significantly since I first started officiating, and it’s always good to know the rules rather than having a coach correct you in the middle of a match. I used to borrow a rule book (harder to come by than you’d think) and read it thoroughly before the first match of a season; now I just go and wing it. After all. I’m retiring — any ol’ day now.