When Integrity Hurts

20 seconds on the clock. A whistle blows as the ball gets tied up by two opposing players. The score is tied, tensions are high and, oh yeah, I’m the ref. Because of the flu, our regular ref had to cancel, and since we don’t play in a conference and are therefore not bound by referee qualification rules, or have a conference to appoint a substitute referee, the only resolution was for the person in the school who knew the most about basketball to ref. That would be me. The head coach. Talk about a conflict of interests. I ran it by the other team’s coaches and they were okay with it (another benefit of playing Christian schools). So now I find myself in a tight game praying that the teams play clean and keep it out of my hands.

That’s when it happened. I turned from checking the scoreboard for the possession arrow only to find our star player pushing an opponent and slamming the basketball to the ground. Any level, any time, a basketball slammed to the floor is an automatic technical foul. Add to that the pushing of the opposing player and now I have a dilemma on my hands. Do I call the foul which not only gives the other team two foul shots, but also possession of the ball, or do I turn my head and let the call go? Do I risk our team’s first win of the season or do I give them the ball… and the chance to win the game?

Integrity. It’s not always easy. I had a decision to make in a split second. There was no time to call a trusted friend and ask for advice. There was no opportunity for me to spend a “quiet moment” with God. In one of those moments when a million thoughts are rushing through your brain faster than you can comprehend them I blow the whistle and put my hands in that familiar “T” for Technical. The deciding factor? I realized if any other team had committed those actions I would make the call, and so in that instance I could not make an exception. I was not a coach. I was the referee. My players were upset. My assistant coach just lowered his head and the other team was relieved to have the foul called.

The outcome: another loss. This time by a mere two points. My star player was heart-broken. My team was angry, and I was hating myself. But then God intervened. He often works through people without them knowing it. Our starting center, a kid who has a lot of promise, but also has a tendency to foul came up to me. He was well acquainted with referees and bad calls. He has a tendency to complain about bad-calls and non-calls, and to be honest, when I saw his gangly form approach I had that sinking, “oh no, not more criticism” feeling. Instead, he extended his hand and complimented me on a well-reffed game.

I don’t know if I reffed the game that well, or if he was simply trying to cheer me up, but I took it as God saying, “You did the right thing and your team has learned a more valuable lesson than winning would have ever taught them.” I hope they did, I know I did.

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