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July 18, 2013

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

I turned 42 on Sunday, and apparently I turned into a crotchety old grump instantly when the clock chimed midnight. I celebrated my birthday in Pella, IA, in an un-air conditioned gym complex, watching my oldest daughter compete in a basketball tourney.

It's the price we pay as parents, trying to support our kids' pursuit of their dreams. That isn't meant to make it sound like a fee, or even to resemble a sacrifice, but simply denotes an overriding passion to provide opportunities to help them succeed.

Sometimes that fervor can get the best of us.

That was the case on Sunday, as this Christian-themed-T-shirt-wearing, father of three did not know when to close his mouth and was ejected from the game by the referee.

My defense attorney would argue justification. Numerous pieces of evidence could be entered into the record to support my claim that the official was doing a disservice to the young people busting their behinds on the court, figuratively and literally.

When I take the stand, I would explain to the judge that after watching the official coming down the court with his back to the game chit-chatting with the officials on the adjacent court, I simply suggested to him that he should probably pay more attention to the game he was being paid to officiate.

Apparently his fuse had been shortened by numerous vocal complaints from both team's coaches, fans and players.

When he turned to confront me, I tried to take the high road, noting that we all understood that he was likely tired from doing several games. All we were asking was for him to simply focus his attention on our game and try to get the combatants under control, after frustrations began to boil over on the court due to the lack of foul calls.

Apparently my fuse had been shortened by sitting in this gym all morning watching my daughter and her teammates pick themselves up off the floor after being tackled short of the first down marker.

The authority figure told me to shut up. And then to further show me who was in power, he swallowed his whistle as our team was hog-tied and drawn and quartered. The other team got similar results at the other end of the court as the retaliation received a similar blind-eye.

After a similar trip down the court in front of me, I stepped over the line, and once again suggested to the official that he start doing his job, and call something before someone got seriously injured.

I never cursed. I never argued a particular bad call, or even suggested that he was favoring one team or the other. All I did was voice my frustrations that the official obviously was not very interested in refereeing the game to the best of his ability, which I felt like the girls from both teams deserved. And for that, I was ejected.

And although it pains me to say it, rightfully so. Do I wish that the official's boss had been there to review his performance and witness his behavior? Absolutely, but it still doesn't make my actions correct.

I was embarrassed. Time and time again I have preached to the kids that officials are human and make mistakes too. While it's the coach's job at times to point out those mistakes, I strongly encouraged players when I was coaching to keep their opinions to themselves or sit next to me on the bench until they could get their emotions in check.

So what kind of message does that send when they watch you get the boot from the fans' stands?

To compound the issue, I tried to justify my actions to them after the game, apologizing for the distraction yet ruining that effort with a big but.

Thanks to Debbie Griffith for pointing that out to me. The author of Everyday Matters, a radio program on Spirit FM, chose a perfect topic for me this morning.

She said "The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others. Yea, okay BUTů The big 'but' is probably the most harmful of words to use in an apology because it has this unique ability to cancel all the words that precede it."

It was wrong for me to get ejected from that game, no ifs, ands or buts.

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