When Stuyvesant fans attend a basketball game, there is usually at least one person on the court who receives little applause or attention. Yet, this person is perhaps the most important figure on the court: the referee.
Fans often forget about the referee when they attend games. They may yell at them occasionally for bad calls, but for the most part, the referee is in the back of their minds. Without him or her, however, there would be no one to enforce the rules or maintain order in the game.
Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) basketball referee Kyle Toppin enjoys his interactions with players when he officiates basketball games. “I used to play a little ball so I enjoy it,” Toppin said. “It keeps me in shape and I enjoy being in the game and just trying to help the young men out.”
PSAL basketball referee Arnold Jeffreys feels the same way when he is on the court. According to Jefferys, it is a thankless job, but one that he does because it enables him to “stay close to the game,” he said.
Toppin’s decision to enter the field of basketball officiating stemmed from his love for the game. Toppin has had experience playing intramural basketball for Palm Memorial Academy and St. Francis College in Brooklyn. “When I was growing up I used to watch the NBA officials,” Toppin said. “We had a basketball tournament where I lived at and there were basketball officials there officiating the games and I was interested.”
Toppin then applied to become an official and took a written test before taking a floor exam where his officiating skills were tested. The written portion consists of 100 true or false questions regarding the rules of basketball. “If you pass the floor exam, [consisting of] working on your mechanics, calling the fouls, timeouts, things to that nature, then you become an approved basketball official,” Toppin said.
Upon becoming an official, Toppin became part of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO), which allows officials to work for public high school, catholic high school and collegiate basketball games.
Officiating requires a lot of skill, which, according to Jeffreys, can be obtained through playing experience. As a referee, one must expect to be tormented by fans, coaches and players throughout the game. “In high school, as a player, I was pretty thick-skinned when it came to the refs, and you have to be that way too when you’re a ref,” Jefferys said. “You have to block everything out.”
With the responsibility of calling games comes the risk of criticism from players, coaches and fans. But cooperation is the key to resolving disputes on the court, according to Toppin. “If they come to me in a courteous manner I will speak to them about a certain call. But if they keep on coming to me, then I won’t answer,” Toppin said.
Still, cooperation does not come easily. “It’s very tough to officiate, there’s a lot of judgment involved and the players move so fast. It’s a tough game and you try and be consistent,” Toppin said.
Maintaining consistency sometimes proves difficult and referees have admitted to making some mistakes. “There isn’t really room for mistakes,” Jefferys said. “We’re all human, so when mistakes do happen, you just have to move on and do your best next call.”
But when mistakes are consistent, PSAL usually takes action, although there are no set procedures that exist to deal with these referees. “That’s up to the PSAL commissioner and the observers. They come out and look at the officials and rate the officials and they in turn will put infractions or take away the official’s schedule,” Toppin said.
More importantly, referees try their best to let the game be decided by the players and not the officials themselves. “It’s the players who play ball and we try to let them adjust the outcome of the game,” Toppin said.
No matter the outcome, the officials’ job is certainly enjoyable when the kids are having fun. “They play seriously. But in the end, they’re there to have fun, and when that happens, it is fun for me too.” Jefferys said.