Refs Reign Over Rim Country Courts

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It's a dirty job coaches often kick dirt on your shoes but Ted Pettet and Tim Fruth can't get enough of it.

They've been officiating Rim country sports for nearly a decade and they've each endured their share of abuse from hot-headed parents, players and coaches. But they keep coming back season after season, game after game for one reason they love the sports.

Some games are more memorable than others, however.

A few years ago, for example, Pettet and Fruth were refereeing a fiercely contested basketball battle in Winslow. The score teeter-tottered back and forth, and when the clock ran out, the favored team lost knocking its winning season down to 28-2.

Although the team was still enjoying a stellar season, one mother ran onto the court for a little one-on-one with the referees.

She didn't argue the call made against her son. She didn't debate the officials' philosophy on how to call the game. But she certainly didn't have any compliments to hand out.

"Hey, you need platform shoes so can see the game," she told Fruth.

Then she turned her focus to the race difference between Fruth and her son.

"You're just a bigot," she yelled.

Then she lit into Pettet.

"She turned to me and told me to have another burrito," he said. "I guess she just didn't like our officiating."

But that's the exception, not the rule, Pettet said.

"I don't really have that much problem with the fans other than having to kick a few out," he said. "Most of the time it's just some parent who comes over to you and says something like, 'Hey, watch the fouls. My son is getting beat up out there.'"

But every once and a while, Fruth said, a fan will get out of hand.

During a girls basketball game in Holbrook, he said, a certain grandfather in the stands decided to broadcast his views to the whole world.

"He kept berating us from the stands until it got so bad that people in the stands had enough and told him to shut up," Fruth said. "In fact, it was so bad, the newspaper in that area wrote an article about the bad sportsmanship demonstrated there."

But sometimes bad sportsmanship can take on a more serious tone.

"At a basketball game in Snowflake, we were running up and down the court and people were throwing popcorn kernels on the floor," Fruth said. "It was amazing that people would actually not only try to cause us to risk life and limb but would also do it even to their own players."

And then of course there are moments unintentional as they may be that cause even the most confident official to blush with embarrassment.

One such time, Pettet said, was when he decided to add cheerleader pom-poms to his uniform.

"We were calling a basketball game where the ball kept going quickly from one end of the court to the other," he said. "Suddenly one team stole the ball and we changed direction quickly and that's when I stepped on a cheerleader's pom-pom and my feet went over my head.

"I mean I was way past vertical," he said.

So what drove these guys to subject themselves to physical danger and general harassment year after year?

Coaching.

"Tim Fruth and I coached together for five years," Pettet said, "and then decided to go into officiating, and I think that made us better officials. My dad always told me that if every ref had to coach for even just one season, it would change the way he calls the game. I think that's very true."

The pair have been officiating for nine years now, and although they've run into some poor sports, they've also had some good times.

"I've worked in the 3A East," Fruth said, "and last year in the 3A North championship games in front of about 4,000 people. The adrenaline high from that is amazing, especially when you have games that come right down to the wire.

"I've had so many positive experiences, but I guess the highlight would be having the opportunity to work three times in playoff games at America West Arena," he said.

The officials for the championship games are selected by the coaches, Fruth said, and to be selected is a real honor.

"That speaks more about it than anything because they respect you for your ability and integrity," he said. "You don't do it for the money ($40 a game), you do it because you love basketball."

And, they both said, the friendships they've developed with players and coaches over the years keeps them coming back for more.

"When you're playing days are over, coaching and officiating are two great ways to stay involved in the game," Pettet said. "When the game is over you're done."

But Pettet and Fruth said they're both far from done. In fact, they're riding high on hard-earned reputations in the 3A East, Pettet said.

"You know you're getting famous when people don't just say 'Hey ref, you stink,' they say 'Hey Pettet, you stink.' You know ... they call you by name."

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