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A lesson in ingesting frustration

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Sometimes I do dumb things. Not always intentionally, but Saturday was a different story.

As I sat along press row in Luckey Arena trying to enjoy a hotly contested men’s basketball game between two of the top-25 teams in NAIA Division II, I was overcome by, well, I’ll call it frustration.

And believe me, I wasn’t the only frustrated person in the place during the second half of Indiana Wesleyan’s game against visiting Bethel. A lot of people I was within earshot of, including ’Cats coach Greg Tonagel and Pilots’ coach Ryan Lightfoot, shared in the frustration.

My job as a reporter is to remain objective, and outwardly I’ve always been pretty good about containing my emotions during games. My job is to observe in silence then do the best I can to share with words and pictures what I saw. I believe I do a fair job with that as well.

I’m also of the belief that teams, coaches and players are why people go to an arena to watch a game in any sport, and that officials rarely have any bearing on the ultimate outcome of any contest.

Saturday was no different in that regard either, the officials had little to nothing to with Indiana Wesleyan earning a 95-92 win over Bethel. The Wildcats made more plays – especially on defense – down the stretch to eek out the important Crossroads League decision.

Frustration started building inside my head and the rest of the arena during the second half. 

Teams like Bethel and Indiana Wesleyan, pretty much the whole Crossroads League for that matter, are really good at basketball. The talent within the league leads to intense, often physical battles on a nightly basis. Not a lot changed with the effort, intensity and attitude during halftime between the Wildcats and Pilots.

What did seemingly change was the way the game was officiated, and quite honestly, it made for an ugly 20 minutes on the court and lasted about 90 minutes on the time clock.

I played a lot of basketball growing up and into my late 20s. Now I watch probably 80 games a year, so I understand that the toughest job on the court isn’t always about guarding Kyle Mangas or Evan Maxwell or Victor Oladipo or Lebron James.

The guys wearing the stripes truly have the toughest job, keeping up with early 20-somethings that speed up and down the floor trying to put the ball in the basket as much as possible. It’s a job I certainly don’t want and one I don’t envy AT ALL.

I’ve also learned the best officiated games are ones where the referees are barely noticed. That certainly wasn’t the case Saturday in Luckey Arena.

After whistling just 17 fouls the entire first half, the first foul of the second half was called just 10 seconds in. As the half wore on, an endless parade by officials to the scorers table and players to the respective free-throw lines ensued.

In all, 53 fouls were called in the game, 36 in the second half alone.

For the record, and for the disgruntled Bethel fans that left disappointed on Saturday, the Pilots were called for three less fouls than was IWU and shot seven more of the 69 free thows taken in the game.

Bethel shot 31 of its 38 free throws in the second half, IWU had 18 attempts over the final 20 minutes for a grand total of 49 free throws in 20 minutes. That’s more than two foul shots for every minute of game time. It makes basketball very difficult to watch and even harder to enjoy, at least from my perspective.

I’m fairly confident I wasn’t alone.

I had internalized my thoughts, mostly, throughout the excruciating and never-ending parade to the charity stripe, but during a timeout with about four minutes remaining in the game, the dumbness spilled out.

One of the trio of officials, who shall remain nameless, appeared to be staring directly at me from the middle of the lane in front of IWU’s bench. I stared directly back and mouthed, “You guys are horrible.”

Whether or not he was really looking at me I’m not sure, and even less sure that he read my lips well enough to know what I said.

A couple of minutes later, and from a proximity of about five feet, he breezed by me to the scorers table to make yet another foul call and I repeated my statement, a little louder in tone and beyond doubt he heard me.  

Very unprofessional on my part, and for my dumbness, I was embarrassed and obviously sorry, but still very frustrated. 

The ref’s response, perhaps even before the foul was made official to the scorer, was to let IWU Athletic Director Mark DeMichael know if I was heard again, I would be listening to the end of the contest on the radio from the parking lot.

Mr. DeMichael kindly conveyed the message to remain silent the rest of the game. 

I did answer the question, “What did you say to him?” a few times afterwards, including to DeMichael and Tonagel and even to a few fans at the Marion Giants’ game that night.

Everyone had a chuckle, and I think most thought the ref was being thin-skinned. I certainly do.

But I was out of line.

Thankfully, Mr. DeMichael kept me from even more dumbness when I asked where the officials’ locker room was located? I simply wanted to discuss why they felt the need to be the stars of the show in the second half.

DeMichael just smiled broadly and answered, “Outside.”

And for that, I’m grateful.