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July 17, 2010

Refs

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Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing.

- Vince Lombardi

Referees cause a profound shift in minds of recreational athletes. League organizers pay official officials to bring a sense of fairness and objectivity to the competition. They're an unbiased source of experience paid to run the show and hold the rulebook on the tip of their tongue.

Of course, even the most qualified refs miss calls and make mistakes. Participants acknowledge this up front. All parties agree to submit to the best judgement of the ref. Putting matters of conflict in the hands of the official is in the best interest of everyone. Winners win and losers lose when there's no room for cheating or complaining.

Supposedly. Shhyeah, right. What actually take place due to the presence of a mere man in a striped shirt goes far beyond the rules of the game.

It's not all bad. Intensity of effort is dialed up a notch or three. Heart rates are maxed out and people suffocating under domestic responsibility are suddenly warriors forced to live in the moment. They push hard, as if the welfare of women and children were at stake. Teammates forge bonds and strain their bodies and break their capacities.

With refs comes the awesome opportunity for athletes to really try. Ooh, there it is.

Trying.

To try means to risk failure. That's where things get hairy. If you care to know a man, be courageous enough to compete against him and try. Or better yet, compete with him. Forget the uniforms because the field or court is always where true color is laid bare.

The glory of having refs is also the curse of having refs. Nice guys get serious and sometimes frustrated. Serious guys become angry. Angry guys become jerks. Jerks quit.

Hire a ref and, for some reason, the rec athlete's own responsibility for conduct suddenly becomes the refs obligation. Respectable associates become egomaniacs that can only see it one way. Fit and sturdy youth become spineless weasels, sometimes violent but always testing to see what they can get away with.

Fathers who try to make every missed basket and dropped fly ball into a "learning opportunity" for their child are suddenly ready to go fistacuffs over a lane violation.

Such is the power of refs in rec sports. Yes - recreational. I testify to the truth as an eye witness. The power discriminates against neither race nor gender, socioeconomic status nor sports experience. It's proven effective on construction workers and professors, beginners and former professionals.

I've litteraly seen the refs power over punk gang members at Harrisburg's Reservoir Park and over pastors and other brethren at Messiah College. And yes, it holds sway over physical therapists too.

If winning is the "only thing," then we better seriously consider what winning really means in rec sports. Winners still go home and have to live with themselves.

"Nobody wins" is certainly a realistic possibility. It occurs when participants blame and bitch and moan to save face in the event of a loss. It's where you arrive after leaving a wake of bickering and bitterness, broken bones and burnt rules, on your way to scoring more points. And that's not what anybody came for.

Yet still, refs can be worth it. Absolutely they're worth it, if you remember (ironically) that it's not just a game.

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Ma crew rollin' white and nerdy last winter:

2 comments:

美岑美岑 said...
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Dan said...

Bob, the things you describe here is why I find throwing weights in masters track meets the most enjoyable of rec sports. Most officials are very competent and there to serve. Saying "thank you" to those officials is always an honor.