High school basketball: Local referee part of the art of assigning officials at state


John Matteo helps assign the state’s best officials, all under one roof, at the state tournament

The best of the best need someone to find the best spot on the brackets.

Vancouver’s own John Matteo, along with 30-year veteran official Kevin Erickson, were the ones behind the scenes at the Tacoma Dome this year, trying to solve the official officials bracket at the Class 4A and 3A boys and girls state basketball tournaments.

“Our job is to coordinate the officials, make sure that we get the best officials, the proper officials, on the right games, the best that we can,” Matteo said this past weekend on the final day of this year’s tournament. 

Kevin Erickson, left, and Vancouver’s John Matteo teamed up this year to coordinate the officials for all 60 boys and girls state tournament basketball games at the Tacoma Dome. They use brackets, in the background, not to follow the progress of teams, but to keep track of who has officiated which teams and who will be assigned to the next games. Matteo is with the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association. Photo by Paul Valencia
Kevin Erickson, left, and Vancouver’s John Matteo teamed up this year to coordinate the officials for all 60 boys and girls state tournament basketball games at the Tacoma Dome. They use brackets, in the background, not to follow the progress of teams, but to keep track of who has officiated which teams and who will be assigned to the next games. Matteo is with the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association. Photo by Paul Valencia

Erickson, who was an official in Snohomish County for 27 years before officiating in Chelan the past three years, is the officials coordinator for the 4A and 3A tourneys. Matteo, a fixture in Clark County as a member of the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association, is Erickson’s assistant.

Assigning officials at the state tournaments is not as simple as saying “You’re next.” Several factors come into play.

The coordinators have 12 officials for the boys tournament and 12 officials for the girls tournament. 

“The officials here are the best in the state,” Erickson said. “Each association has a rating system. Only their top people go to state.”

From Wednesday through Saturday, from the winner’s bracket, to the consolation bracket, all the way to the trophy games, there are 60 games to schedule — 15 games for each tournament 4A boys and 4A girls, 3A boys and 3A girls. The same is true in Yakima for Class 2A and 1A boys and girls as well as in Spokane for the Class 2B and 1B boys and girls.

“The first day, we don’t want anybody to be with their home teams,” Erickson said. “We try to keep people away from teams they are familiar with.”

In other words, an Evergreen association official would not be assigned a Union boys or Camas girls game in the first round.

“If there is ever a game that ends in a little bit of controversy, we try to have those three officials do a different team the next day,” Erickson said. 

By Friday and Saturday, though, it is possible that an official gets to call a game that involves a school from his or her home association. Because by the end of the tournament, in theory, the best officials from the tournament get the best games.

The officials are being graded. There are official observers courtside, plus the officials themselves grade each other after each contest.

This is all part of the constant push to improve officiating. 

“I don’t think most fans, or even some coaches, understand what officials do in the offseason,”  Erickson added. “They pay money to go to camps, to ref for free, and get yelled at by observers. They get together and have rule-book studies. They’ll get game-tape. They are really hard on themselves.

“I think the general fan thinks, ‘Oh, these guys left work, showed up, ruined the game, and went home.’ It’s not like that,” Erickson continued. “There is so much work.”

And at the end of every season, the best of the best are selected for state.

Matteo said he recalled how special it was to be named to the officiating crew at a state tournament. He knows what it means for the men and women who are officiating this year.

“What people don’t understand is the time and effort and the sacrifice they have to make with family, with work,” Matteo said. “It’s nice to have that reward at the end, to have a fun game in this type of atmosphere.”

He called it an honor to be an official at state.

After decades in the officiating ranks, Matteo and Erickson say they both enjoy their new roles as coordinators.

“I don’t really want to do eight games in four days anymore,” Erickson said.

For Matteo, his whole officiating career has been about helping young people play the game he loves.

“I feel like it’s my way of giving back,” Matteo said. “When it comes to basketball season, and making sure that kids have an official on the court, there is a lot that goes with it and a big sacrifice you make. It’s my way to contribute to the community, to make sure kids have officials for their games that they play. 

“I’m proud of what we do.”

This year’s state officials from the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association: Phil Barricklow (Tacoma girls); Travis Garrison (Tacoma boys); Jason Bollinger (Yakima girls); Matt Kallappa (Spokane boys); and Neil Anderson (Tacoma observer). 

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