While local basketball referee Timothy Molinari seems to have a firm grasp of the complexities of his profession, I would tend to disagree with his favorite description of his job.
Molinari, who lives in Seymour and who can be seen in gyms all over our area doing high school basketball games, compares officiating to downhill skiing.
“Sometimes it can be tough to keep up,” said Molinari, who is 55. “In downhill skiing, you can’t dwell on where you came from.”
Yes, but in downhill skiing, the spectators aren’t going to verbally berate you after you crash and burn.
In basketball officiating, it is rare when an official doesn’t crash and burn at least three or four times a game. Making it all the more uncomfortable is that the fans often don’t know the rules, so they perceive that number to be much higher, toward 15 to 20 times a game. Oh, and basketball also allows for equal opportunity cruelty. An official usually is open to abuse from the fans of both teams, no matter the margin.
That is OK with Molinari, who knows that the nature of the business is being wrong at times. Because of the movement of the game and the positioning of the officials, different angles will lead to different calls. And 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.
“Some of the (complaints) from the stands are warranted,” he said.
Then again, some aren’t.
Over the years, Molinari realized that fans often don’t understand why a call was being made.
“I was doing a middle school game in Seymour three years ago, and one team kept shooting the ball and missing, getting the offensive rebound, then shooting and missing, and getting the offensive rebound ... there were people in the stands yelling three seconds and then counting up to 15.”
Offensive players aren’t allowed to be in the free-throw lane for more than three seconds, but when a shot hits the rim, that count starts over.
So during a break, Molinari went over to the stands where the fans were yelling at him. “I said, ‘Does anyone have any questions?’ After some silence, someone raised their hand. ‘What happens when the ball is on top of the backboard?’ Then somebody else raised their hand.”
In answering the questions, Molinari thought of an idea. How about a free local seminar for basketball fans?
Six months after that experience, he started “Basketball Officiating for the Fan,” a seminar that he offers for free a couple of times a year at local libraries. At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Molinari’s class will be offered at the Bartholomew County Public Library in the conference room. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Molinari has been a high school basketball official for 20 years in Oregon, California and Indiana. He usually will make a presentation to start the seminar and then answer questions. The class usually lasts about 90 minutes, and Molinari tries to answer every question.
“I’m usually the last one to leave the room,” he said.
“Most people never have the chance to chat with any official,” he said. “I realized in speaking with people briefly that some people just don’t know the rules. This class has been a positive. This will be the third one I have held in Columbus, and I have gotten a complete cross-section of society. I have gotten the mother whose elementary school children are just starting to play, and I have gotten the contractor who just happened to be in town and wanted to kill some time.
“People come in curious. There is a lot of give-and-take. I cover some general things at the beginning, like how you become an official and what type of time commitment that involves. It’s all very constructive and not in a game atmosphere.”
In other words, those who attend the seminars are not yelling nasty stuff at him.
Molinari isn’t bothered much by the feedback from the stands anyway.
“When the ball is in play, I really don’t hear anything at all,” he said. “It’s when the ball is dead that you hear everything.
“I think the best one I ever heard was one night I was running down the court and a guy in the stands yelled, ‘They are hiring at Foot Locker.’ That made my night. I was smiling the rest of the game.”
Perhaps the best thing Molinari has going in his favor is that he cares.
“You’ve got to care about what you are doing,” he said. “You’ve got to want to be a good official.
“Any good official would tell you that he hasn’t arrived yet. But you get more confident over time. I’m 55, and I’m in my prime right now. It is a combination of experience and that I have the physical ability to move with the players. It’s real important that you have to be fit. Most of us begin training in the late summer.
“So if you are doing it for a paycheck, you probably shouldn’t be out there.”
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.