By Sue Minton
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Go to any basketball game and you will hear something like this from the crowd — “Ref, get your head in the game!;” “There’s two teams on the floor!;” “Does that whistle work?”
For 38 years, Rufus Fields has been hearing, and ignoring, these comments.
“I have never held grudges against fans because it is parents and grandparents supporting their children and grandchildren,” he said. “They are emotionally involved and have a reason to get excited.”
In 1965 Fields began wearing the official black and white striped shirt of a basketball official. In the mid-1990s, after 30 years, he retired his whistle. But in 2005 he came back to the hardwood and today calls games three to four times a week.
He became a referee for his love of the game.
“I love basketball. I didn’t play sports in high school, but my children played some. But now I have grandchildren who are greatly involved in sports, and when I’m not officiating, I attend their games and the local high school games.”
From calling his first high school game between Livingston and Oneida, he has called hundreds of games some involving family and friends. Sometimes seeing the same faces — coaches, players, parents — year after year. His nerves have calmed over time and, today, when he walks onto the hardwood, he is always in business mode.
“Your family and friends are harder on you than anybody. It is hard to keep your emotions in check while everyone around you is screaming. Sometimes, you wish you could respond to the crowd. But that is the worst thing you can do.”
The finals of the 48th District between Somerset and Pulaski County around 1985 was the most exciting game Fields can remember officiating.
“There was an estimated crowd of 8,000 people and they were loud. And probably the most toughest game was the Clay County vs. Louisville Central game around 1983. And Richie Farmer, from Clay County, is the player that stands out the most in my mind.”
Fields has seen changes in the sport over the years, mostly towards the officials.
“There has been no major rule changes in basketball for many years, and the players are basically the same. It is the coaches and fans that create problems. They do not respect the officials.”
Fields doesn’t recall being threatened by fans but knows some officials who have.
There are going to be missed calls. Inconsistencies are going to happen. Referees are human and they are going to make mistakes. Because of the movement of the game and the positioning of the officials, different angles will lead to different calls. The way an official sees the play on the floor could be very different from the way the fans see the action in the stands, he said.
“But, almost all calls made by officials are correct,” Fields said. “The calls missed are usually due to positioning and not being able to see.”
Fields mostly officiates middle school games and for the Upward Basketball Program.
“I have been officiating Upward basketball for several years. The program is a ministry of my church, Calvary Baptist. I like to help our associate pastor, Jamie Maxey, out. He is a long time friend of mine.”
During Fields career as a referee, he has officiated many district tournaments and regional finals but has never officiated the KHSAA state tournaments.
“I have worked the KCHSAA (Christian high schools) state tournaments,” he added.
Anyone interested in basketball and is willing to learn can become a basketball officials.
You must be 18-years-old, be in fairly good physical condition, pass a rules test and attend annual meetings where you will receive the latest rule changes.
“There are three levels of ratings for referees,” Fields said. “I have been at the top level certified for 35 years. I have taken three written tests, each becoming more difficult, and attended the KHSAA mandatory rules clinics each year.”
Fields not only loves basketball and being involved but also loves the exercise.
“It can be an hour-and-a-half to two hours of walking and running up and down the court,” he said.
Fields said two people — Jack Bruner and the late Gene Lowe — helped him get started in becoming a referee.
“And over the years London has produced some good officials including Mike Maxey, Jack Cupp, Lawrence Kuhl, Richard Morgan, Keith Morgan, Raleigh Anders, Wendell Brown, Scotty McClure, and there are others.
“Today, London still has a group of good young referees including Kyle Mink, Mike Black, Mike Philpot, Chris Rednour and others to carry on the tradition.”
One thing most officials will say with pride is they are not in it for the money.
“I’m doing something I love and enjoy,” Fields said.