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COMMENT: High school referees should be held in check, too

Three hours after Golden Valley High’s loss to Turlock last Friday, Keith Hunter was still fuming.

The Golden Valley boys basketball coach sent me a text after reading the game story online. Hunter was unhappy I didn’t include his entire rant on the officiating in the story.

If you read the story, Hunter blasted the referees after they called 53 fouls and allowed the two teams to combine for 74 free throws in the Bulldogs’ 62-53 win.

Frankly, if I included Hunter’s entire post-game rant, I would have had to give him the byline credit for the story.

The amount of calls seemed out of the ordinary when you consider Golden Valley had committed only 13 fouls and surrendered just 12 free throws per game in the 15 games leading up to Friday’s game. Against Turlock, the Cougars were whistled for 32 fouls, which resulted in the Bulldogs shooting 44 free throws.

I’ve never covered a game with so many fouls and free throws in my 15 years at the Sun-Star. For the first time, I was tweeting the number of fouls called each quarter.

Afterward I had Turlock and Golden Valley fans coming up to me to comment on the officiating. None of my observations were good.

Before Hunter made his postgame comments, he made sure Golden Valley principal Costa Aguilar and athletic director Bill Hurst were in earshot so they wouldn’t be shocked when they read the newspaer.

Hunter, who once received a technical foul from a ref in the bathroom at halftime, did bring up a good question: Who is holding the referees accountable for their performance?

Players are held accountable by their coaches. Coaches are held accountable by their athletic directors and school administrators.

Who is making sure the referees are doing a competent job?

Don’t look at the Sac-Joaquin Section office.

“We field complaints but we purposely keep ourselves at arms length from the officiating,” said section director of communications, Will DeBoard. “We work with the referee associations (Northern California Officials Association) for the North and South. We hire assigners to deal with the associations. If we have any issues, we’ll alert the assigners and it will trickle down from there.”

Former referee Bert Haskins has been the assigner for the South officials for 23 years. He’s the person in charge of scheduling which officials work which games.

Haskins said he heard from two people who were at the Golden Valley-Turlock game on Friday night. One was a junior college coach who told Haskins if the referees didn’t call the game tight it could have gotten out of hand, meaning the physical play could have escalated to possible fights. The other opinion he saw was Hunter’s comments in the paper.

“It was pretty obvious how Keith felt,” Haskins said. “Keith’s been around a long time. He’s a good coach. It was a pretty intense game. From his perspective there were a lot of fouls.”

Personally, I like when you don’t notice the referees. In this instance, by calling the game so tight, they never let the players get in any rhythm. At no point did I feel there was any danger of the game getting out of hand. Any time there was contact made a whistle followed. There has to be some contact allowed in basketball or you’re not giving defenders a chance.

As for keeping an eye on officials, Haskins says there are about 15 people made up of current and former referees who go to games and evaluate officials. However, Haskins concedes it’s tough to evaluate officials during the season because many of the referees are working games themselves.

The officials are rated and Haskins tries to assign the highest rated officials to big games when possible. Geography and availability also play a role in how he assigns games.

Haskins also said referees are encouraged to attend clinics during the summer where they go over philosophy on game control and the different mechanics officials use during games.

As for Hunter, he’s done complaining.

“I’ve got to be done with it,” he said. “If I say anything else it’s just going to hurt my team. I’ve got to move on. If all the games are called like that we’ve got to adjust. It’s done, it’s over.”

I guess there will be no more late night texts.

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