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Kids with the right attitude make working a ‘few games’ worth it

In the summer of 2004, I was just a few months into my job as the editor of the Forest City Summit.It was late July, and I needed a story for our sports section so I spent a few hours at the Waldorf Team Camp, a basketball bonanza that included 40 teams from 25 schools scattered throughout the state.For five days, almost 350 high school kids and their coaches played a ton of hoops, but the story I wrote that year had less to do with field goals, rebounds and assists and more to do with team bonding.As I interviewed the camp director, then-Waldorf College men’s basketball coach Chad Brown, he asked me if I would be interested in officiating some games for him the next year?“We pay, not great, but we pay,” he said, and I thought, “Why not?”In May 2005, Brownie called me and asked me if he could put me on the schedule.“Yeah, I’ll do a few games.”In early July, I got my schedule, which included 30 games. Obviously, my definition of a few was drastically different from Coach Brown’s.When I worked in Forest City, working camp was easy. I’d take a few hours off during the day and work a lot of night games.In December 2009, we moved to New Hampton, and before I left Forest City, Brownie called me with an order.“Take vacation camp week, I’ll get you housing and you can double-dip,” he said, referring to both my real-job check and the one he handed me when camp ended.In 2012, the camp moved to North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, and I continued to take vacation and double-dip, if you will. Although the team camp itself went from five to four days, a weekend “shootout” was added, and I worked that.For years, camp money was used for a mini-vacation for the Fenske Boys, but lately, the money I make seems to go to the two younger members of our little group.Josh has participated in the camp for the last three years, and a year ago, before Noah decided he was going to be a wrestler, both boys went.The nice thing is that I don’t have to pay their camp fees up front; instead, NIACC just takes it out of my check, which meant the year both boys went, I got a check for a whopping 20 bucks.Still, the size of the check doesn’t really matter, it’s been a fun ride.There are several coaches who have brought teams to camp virtually every year since I first worked those few games back in 2005, and it’s like old-home week. We might see each other only once a year, but the grief begins almost immediately.Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about officiating — most notably, I probably don’t “anticipate” anywhere near what I used to do — but this year may have been the most “educational” year I’ve had while running up and down the courts hanging out in the “camp headquarters.”I learned — or maybe a better term is re-learned — that running (or at least what I call running) in the weeks before camp is critical. After working 29 games the last week, I’m sore, but I’m walking. In the years I’ve let camp “creep up” on me, I’ve been sore and not walking.I learned that coaches sometimes say the weirdest things. I had a coach, not New Hampton’s Chad Sweitzer I will be quick to add, by the way, argue a three-second call with me and the conversation went something like this:Me: He was in the lane for the whole possession.Coach: But we only had the ball for five seconds.I learned, from my son, that he never wants me to ref one of his games again. “You’re so worried about making sure you’re fair that you’re really kind of tough on us.”I learned that I am no longer me. New Hampton wasn’t at the weekend shootout, but I had about five kids from three different teams ask me, “Aren’t you Josh’s dad?”Mostly, though, I learned that most kids still pretty cool.After a particularily intense game one day last week — one in which my partner and I had a lot of close calls — a player from the little southwest Iowa town of Murray came up to us and said “thanks for working the game.”I asked him if he was having fun and expected a quick answer.Instead, he talked about how he and his teammates look forward to their trip north every year.“The basketball is only part of it,” he said, “and really it’s kind of a small part of it. We hang out, we play video games, we stay up way too late and, oh yeah, we play a little basketball. But we get real tight as a team and that’s what really matters.”I’ve heard the same thing from the New Hampton kids who have gone camping over the years, and for me, that makes it all worth it, so I’ve made my decision.I’ll go ref a “few games” in 2017. 

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