basketball referee ref

A quarter-century ago, Brian Peabody (now the men’s basketball coach at Pima Community College) was the boys’ coach at Salpointe High School. He was then (and remains today) a real go-getter. For the entire month of June, he would run youth basketball camps in the daytime and high-school summer basketball leagues at night. He and I were reffing one of those games one night when a particularly obnoxious parent decided to embarrass his son by questioning every call…and every no-call, for that matter.

This went on for several minutes and then, finally, Brian went up to the man during a timeout and asked what the problem was. The man proceeded to launch into a litany of all of the mistakes (of commission and omission) that Brian and I had made. Finally, Brian offered the man his whistle and said, “Do you think you can do a better job?”

The man climbed down out of the bleachers, took Brian’s shirt and (rather grossly) his whistle. Brian sat down at the scorer’s table and smirked at me, gleeful in having left me to ref the rest of the game with a Parent Anchor around my neck.

The game remained close and I found myself making almost all of the calls. The Parent had the whistle in his hand and only blew it a couple times and then only after I had blown mine. Late in the game, with his kid’s team down by one, The Parent’s son drove down the lane and got absolutely massacred. I was going to call the foul, but I paused, waiting to see what my “partner” would do. He completely froze, made no call, and his son’s team lost by one.

It was wonderful. 

After the game, The Parent apologized to Brian and me and said that it was much harder than it looks from the stands. He said that he would try to do better in the future. (Yeah, right!)

I once told that story to Jim Fogltance, the legendary Tucson-based referee whose 54-year career came to an end in the L.A. Coliseum a couple weeks ago, and he got a kick out of it. He said that he had long thought that, as a prerequisite to gaining a coaching position, all candidates would have to ref a few games in that sport to gain the proper perspective.

Fogltance is the positive inverse of Will Rogers; he almost certainly never met a man who didn’t like him. He’s lighthearted and compassionate, friendly and funny as all heck. And he’s got a memory that’s borderline scary. He remembers plays from high-school games that he reffed in the early 1970s and, like all great refs, he is much less likely to remember who won the game than how well (or, every now and then, poorly) he did his job. Refs are like athletes in that, when the game is over, they can just feel whether they did a good job.

An Amphi Panther who graduated high school in 1961, Fogltance began officiating high school football in 1967. Within a few years, he was reffing state playoff games, as well as junior college and small four-year college games. Amazingly, it only took him a decade to jump to the Pac-10. With the Peter Principle in place (in a hierarchy, most people will rise to a level where they are no longer competent in their job), the vast majority of high-school refs will never even get to work a prep playoff game, let alone moving up to JuCo games. 

He reffed one of the most-famous college games of all time, the Cal-Stanford game where Cal scored on “The Play,” the legendary multiple-lateral (and one uncalled illegal forward pass) monstrosity that probably kept John Elway from winning the Heisman Trophy. 

The Fogltance mantle has been taken up by Jim’s son, B.J. Fogltance, another Amphi grad who played basketball alongside Emerson Whitley, who would go on to star for Yale. B.J. Fogltance is a highly sought-after referee for prep basketball and football.

As for Fogltance The Elder, he called it quits on his 54-year career after working the USC-BYU game a couple weeks back. He had left the field a few years ago. (We can do the math; he’s tiptoeing up on 80 years of age.) But he wasn’t done. He became the head of a Pac-12 replay crew.

You know how that Parent was sitting in the stands, making every correct call (in his head)? Well, nowadays, millions of people are watching on TV and/or sitting in the stands, knowing exactly which way the contested call should go and wondering WHAT’S TAKING SO DARNED LONG WITH THOSE IDIOTS IN THE BOOTH?!!!

He’s got a half-century worth of great memories and has provided a priceless service to countless athletes, coaches, and fans. Hey, good call, Ref!


EXTRA POINTS: It has been a middling start for the prep basketball season for teams in Northwest Tucson, Marana and Oro Valley. Flowing Wells girls, who reached the 5A state championship game last year, are off to a flying start with a 3-0 mark, while Pusch Ridge is 2-0 to start the season… Other teams are off to a slow start. Marana Mountain View, Ironwood Ridge, and Canyon Del Oro have a combined record of 2-7 after the first two weeks of the season… Things were especially bad at CDO, where games scheduled for Monday and yesterday had to be postponed and rescheduled due to an outbreak of strep throat among the Dorado players… On the boys’ side, only one of the seven teams in the Northwest area has a winning record, and that team, Canyon Del Oro, is only 1-0… The rest of the teams (Amphi, Pusch Ridge, Marana, Mountain View, Flowing Wells, and Ironwood Ridge) are a combined 4-11…

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