To Ref or Not to Ref?

I have a decision to make: Do I want to return to the basketball court and officiate high school basketball this year?

Training starts in August with the first regular season games taking place in November. I have officiated basketball for over a dozen years, but I haven’t been on the court in two years. I suffered an ankle injury playing tennis last year and sat out during the COVID year of 2020. Part of me wants to return. Part of me wants to hang up my basketball shoes for good.

Referees are under attack in this country. Doesn’t matter the sport – players, parents and coaches have been caught on camera assaulting referees because they disagreed with a call or non-call. Lawmakers have passed laws to protect referees, but in the heat of the moment, those laws do nothing to protect us.

I believe this has everything to do with coaching. Coaches set the tone for players’ and fans’ emotions. Some coaches argue Every. Single. Call. This happens even if the referee’s call was correct or obvious; these coaches argue for the sake of arguing. They believe it’s their job. Players and spectators then pile on officials with yelling and cursing.

School coaches can be jerks. Youth league coaches are even worse. Unlike school coaches, youth league coaches do not have a teaching career to worry about… or jeopardize.

A few years ago, during a tournament time out, a youth league coach threatened to beat me up after the game was over. He stood chest to chest to me. I remember telling him that if he tried to attack me, I wasn’t going to back down. I wouldn’t start the fight. But I’d definitely end it. I am at the gym to provide a service. The thanks I received was a threat. Fortunately, it did not come down to that.

In a separate incident, a parent ran onto the court to yell at me during an injury timeout. Just one minute before, I told the coach I was assessing a foul on the previous play. He agreed with the decision. When I reported the foul, the coach pretended to be shocked by the call. Why? To turn the crowd against me. I ended the game on the spot and called for security.

Don’t get me wrong. I love officiating basketball. But, something needs to change.

I started refereeing basketball to make side cash. Last year, referees made $40-$50 for middle school games, $55 for Freshman and JV games, and $75 for varsity games. Refs also receive gas money ranging from $15 to $45.

The money is nice, considering each game lasts about an hour to an hour-fifteen minutes. So, if I officiated Freshman and JV games, for example, I’d get paid $125 for 2 ½ hours of work. Not bad for a side gig.

I’ll make my decision in a couple of weeks. As of now, I’m leaning towards making a return to the basketball court. If I do, I need to do a better job of addressing the coach in our pre-game chat. If they are up to their old antics and the crowd keeps getting worse, I’ll be gone for good.

If you’re interested in refereeing, check out

What do you think? Should Michael return to refereeing? Contact him on Twitter @MikeESPNSA. You can listen to Michael on Halftime, weekdays from Noon to 2 p.m.