January 16, 2013
It’s Family Night for these referees
McGRAW — Their evening’s work completed, referees Derek Allen and Mike Hartnett returned to the athletic office at McGraw High School that served as their locker room facility.
Blessed Virgin Mary Academy had just held off host McGraw Central in Tuesday’s junior varsity boys’ basketball prelim overseen by the two longtime friends and 2008 Cortland High graduates, who could still be considered relative neophytes in the whistle-blowing business.
What made this occasion unique was that waiting for them in that cramped office space were the officials for the varsity game to follow, veteran referees Craig Allen and Jerry Hartnett — who just happen to be their fathers.
In what appears to be an unprecedented occurrence in these parts, this non-league twin bill was an all-family affair. No one could recall this happening before among the stripe-shirt overseers of the sport.
As fathers are wont to do, a quick review of their son’s performance was soon offered up. That mostly dealt with the mechanics of handling a game and court positioning in certain situations. Then, left alone with a visitor, the two still relative rookies carried on this conversation.
“Honestly, they were pretty simple compared to other referees,” said Derek Allen of the advice that had just been offered up by their dads.
“Other guys will take this little card and break it down for you, which you don’t mind,” said Mike Hartnett, showing a small court diagram that other varsity referees have used as a teaching tool. “It’s not like it’s a big deal when they’re critiquing us.”
“You want to get better,” agreed his partner. “You were saying a few games ago, you don’t want to go out there and disgrace yourself.”
“You don’t want to go out there and not know what you’re doing. Then you just look like a schmuck,” the younger Hartnett agreed.
“You want to come out as a professional. You’re a professional, you want to act professionally and you want to keep getting better,” said Derek Allen.
And the hardest part of this profession?
“Just making the call. Sometimes, you miss a call,” admitted Mike Hartnett.
“People miss shots, referees miss calls, and the fans think they know everything. That’s the thing. There’s no mask in front of you like in baseball,” his partner chimed in.
Following in dad’s footsteps is not always the easiest thing to do.
Jerry Hartnett — who works as an agent for Hage Real Estate in Cortland — has been a basketball official with the Finger Lakes Boards for over 20 years and currently has the role of assigning referees to games. Craig Allen — Cortland resident and math teacher at Homer High School who also referees soccer, softball and baseball — has been at it for 15 winters now.
“The varsity guys usually look at the JV guys and try to talk to them, regardless of who they are,” said Jerry Hartnett. “We talked to them a little bit tonight when they came into halftime, too, just gave them a couple of pointers here and there. And people still come to us and say, hey, you should have done that or done this. So you’re always learning.”
Craig Allen didn’t assert too much influence on his son to become a referee, though the kid used to tag along even as an infant in a playpen to watch his dad coach basketball at McGraw. He never really watched him work as a referee,though.
“A little bit, not a lot,” said the elder Allen about talking to his son about becoming an official. “I think he was encouraged more by other people I know. He loves basketball, he loves to coach. It’s one of those things where it’s a way for him to get some extra money on the side. He did it in college (at SUNY Cortland) as a rec official and he came on board his senior year in college and has done it ever since.”
“I probably hit him as hard an anybody,” said Jerry Hartnett of recruiting Derek. “He coaches my little guys in basketball so I think I hit him as hard as anybody. It’s easier for another person to do it than a parent, because they’re not going to listen to a parent. So I encouraged him, if he wanted to make some extra money.”
He had recruited son Mike Hartnett to help out for the annual AAU Tournament that comes to Cortland in March, where plenty of help is needed with so many games to referee over that hectic weekend. This is his first full season of being a ref, while his partner is a second-year official.
The chance for extra money also helped attract Derek and Mike, who earned $60 apiece for this night’s work. Allen is currently employed by Geared-2-Sports in town as well as being an AAU coach. Hartnett is looking to get into law enforcement and just took a physical exam and civil service test towards that goal, and will most likely play lacrosse at Tompkins Cortland Community College this spring.
Young referees are always a nice commodity to have, the Finger Lakes Board now with over 40 members to handle the load of games locally.
Jerry Hartnett remembers when the referee fraternity in the past would have sometimes 20 people gathering after games on Tuesdays and Fridays for a few adult beverages while reviewing the evening’s highlights and low-lights from area games. “You learned more at the bar sometimes than you ever learned on the court,” he quipped.
Though those gatherings have dwindled tremendously, that togetherness is still vital to working together. That is why being longtime friends helps when the younger Allen-Hartnett duo take to the court together.
“We’ve worked together now almost all year,” said Derek Allen. “We’ve got a good hold on what one another is going to call, what we need to do to look out for each other, and that’s a huge help.”
“Those two work pretty well together,” noted Jerry Hartnett. “There are some things we’re going to need to talk about them here, but they’re young, they’re athletic and they’ve both played the game. They could be good if they want to pursue it down the road. They both have a good handle on it for the most part.”
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