Sunday, December 11, 2005

Go back to Foot Locker

I was a basketball referee for a few years in high school, because reffing is a really good way to prepare yourself for the future, especially if the future might involve lots of people yelling at you. A referee is nobody’s friend. I think it’s because people don’t like whistles, which dredge up some sort of deep-down, visceral animosity towards authority figures. And also, #16 obviously just traveled. Hey, Ref, traveling! Aw, c’mon. Open your eyes!

At the end of every season, the league I reffed for scheduled a coaches vs. refs game, a tradition that extended all the way back, I believe, to the year that cockfighting became illegal. Something had to fill the bloodlust void.

The game pitted the seventeen year-old refs against the slightly more geriatric coaches, who would toss and turn all night before the day of the game, muttering, “Reaching in? You gotta be kidding me,” while dreaming about hunting zebras that have whistles around their necks.
The coaches were a little less spry than the refs, but what they lacked in elastic ligaments, they made up for with liberally applied elbows and 401(k) plans. While the vast majority of the coaches were good sports, there were always a couple who seemed like they were just a sideways glance away from ripping off their knee braces and beating somebody with them.

During one of those games, I was playing defense on a coach who had beaten me, not with his knee brace, but to the basket, and as he went for a layup, I gave him a friendly little nudge in the back, a little tap just to say, “I care,” which sent him sprawling onto the gym floor. In my defense, the floor was a very soft pine.

When the coach got back on his feet, as he made his way to the foul line, he veered off course to head over my way. “He must be coming over to congratulate me on a well-executed defensive maneuver,” I thought. Instead, he leaned in so that just I could hear him, and in a very matter-of-fact tone, he muttered, “If you ever do that again, I’ll rip your [pretty little] head off.”

Looking back on it now, I don’t even remember who won the game. It’s funny how in life you tend to forget about the final scores, but you always remember the death threats.

I recently told my wife Kara that story, and when I finished, she looked at me with genuine amazement. “You’ve never told me that story before,” she said. “That’s hard to believe.”

“I haven’t thought of it in a while. And why’s it so hard to believe? I really didn’t push him that hard. He must have been the sensitive type,” I said.

“No, no, I mean it’s hard to believe that you still have new stories. That’s seriously the first time I’ve ever heard that one.”

And she’s right. After five-plus years of being together, we’ve both completely run out of new material. I already know about everything that’s happened to her since 1999 (because I was there for most of it), and she can say the same about me. And we’ve both had plenty of time to catch each other up on everything that happened before we met. That story about the coach threatening to rip my head off was the last fresh story she’s ever going to hear out of me. It’s all reruns from here on out. Hey, Seinfeld’s nothing but reruns, too, but it’s still worth watching.

Work stories don’t count as new material, either, because who wants to hear about work? We’re each allotted ten minutes per weekday to talk about work, but after that, you have to talk to the glazed-over eyeballs, ‘cause the ears ain’t listenin’.

Before you get called for three seconds in the paint, you can reach Mike Todd online at


  1. Ah, yes. Coaches.

    You're story reminds me of the time I played intramural basketball in high school. The game was being reffed by none other than the Head Coach himself, and after a foul had been called I remember taking my position alongside the key, hands on my knees, head down, and catching my breath when out of the corner of my eye I see my friend stick his arm out and thought it odd. PING! went the ball as it slapped off his hand, protecting my noodle from sure damage. Coach Ram-jam apparently didn't like something I either said, swaggered, glanced or whatever and hurled the full Monte at me point-blank. I remember looking at him with that wonderment one has when they see things beyond explanation, but his subsequent words were lost in the shock of it all.

    He was a real peach, too. Just ask the poor guy who kept talking during the 'Smoking is bad for you' movie on health ed. day. All I remember hearing was the scuffle as coach pulled a well-executed sneak attack and hauled him into the hallway and its daylight. After the door slammed all you could hear was the kid being slammed into the wall (thankfully it was drywall and not a block wall,) slapped silly and coach yelling 'shut-up, just shut-up' as he vented whatever frustrations had been building for 20 years on the poor kid who was easily 80 pounds lighter than him.

  2. I didn't have anything like that happen to me in basketball but playing fieldhockey was pretty brutal. One time I took a direct stick swing right across the back of both thighs. I had a bruise/welt for 3 weeks but she rug burned her face when I tripped her with my stick at full run down the field. lol

    Great post Mike!

  3. funny.

    (glad I didn't play fieldhockey with Sheri - and she has such an innocent smile - they're always the ones)

  4. As a former volleyball player, I had to worry about dodging large white objects being deliberately spiked at my head.

    And, we enjoy sports again, why?

    You had me laughing smiling with the talk of lack of new material. Jon and I have been together since 1994, and yup, you've nailed it.

    But, when those fresh stories do happen to pop up, oh isn't it wonderful?

    It only gets better as you go along, hon. Worse comes to worse, make some stories up. She'll never know, right? ;)


  5. Ah... the joys of sports! Sheri, I'm shocked! Simply SHOCKED! LOL My most vivid memory of school sports had to do with rebounds and elbows. Somehow, I think that getting a broken nose during try-outs ruined my chances of becoming a star guard!

  6. Awww please... I know you have many more stories that you haven't shared with Kara. Back in college I remember you telling me about your older next door neighbor Jed who liked to play "hide the gerbil" - maybe you're supressing those memories now, who knows.

  7. Hey, we've almost got enough comments here for a pick-up basketball game. Who's in?

    Y'all rule. Thanks for stopping in.