It’s surprising how different basketball looks from the vantage point of a referee – especially compared to that of a player, much less a fan.

That’s one of the many things Braden Bohannon, still very much a participant in the sport, has learned in less than a year as an official.

“It’s a whole different animal when you’re the guy that has to blow the whistle and make the call,” he said. “The game is so much faster, when you’re the one that has to blow the whistle. … It gives you a whole different perspective.”

Bohannon, a 6-foot junior, is a backup guard at Lebanon Valley College, and the last three seasons has started at quarterback for the LVC football team. At ELCO, he competed in four sports and achieved all-state status in football and hoops. But at this point he is looking at his athletic career a little differently, too. He is taking the long view.

Lebanon Valley College backup guard Braden Bohannon takes the ball downcourt for the Dutchmen. (Provided photo)

“I kind of wanted a way, once I’m done playing basketball, just to stay involved in the game,” he said.

That’s why he went on the PIAA website last March and agreed to plunk down $40 for a copy of the rulebook, as well as a practice test. He passed the test that same month, joined the Lancaster-Lebanon Basketball Officials chapter and was immediately assigned AAU games at Spooky Nook Sports Complex.

In fact, he remembers doing three games his first day as a ref – a seventh-grade game, a 10th-grade game and another game involving seventh-graders.

“I was very nervous,” he said. “I didn’t even know where to stand, or where I’m supposed to look, or anything like that.”

Because, once again, everything looks so different when you’re wearing a striped shirt.

“It’s real easy when you’re watching a game,” he said. “You’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s a foul, that’s a travel.’ … You’re like, ‘How did that official miss the call?’ Once you officiate, you can kind of get the understanding of OK, every once in a while you’re going to miss one, or that’s not his spot that he’s looking. It gives you a whole different perspective on the game and officials, because it’s a lot tougher than what it seems.”

HIs dad, Doug, who retired as ELCO’s athletic director in 2022, is likewise taking the plunge into officiating. And Doug’s lifelong friend Keith Evans, who is in his 30th year as a referee, has only been too happy to mentor the younger Bohannon as he has taken on junior high and junior varsity assignments this winter.

“He’s just unflappable,” Evans said of Braden. “He looks the part, No. 1. You can’t ruffle his feathers. He just goes out there and handles his business. Some guys you see, they develop into good officials. He looks like a good official right away.”

Evans’ advice has been wide-ranging: Where to stand, where to look, even what to say (and to whom).

Braden Bohannon officiates a game for the Vikings. (Provided photo)

“It’s kind of changed each game,” Braden said. “He’s kind of given just a minor pointer, or he’ll compliment me: ‘Good call. You handled that situation well.’ He’ll do different stuff like that. He’s been a big help for me.”

One point of emphasis is to keep moving on the court, in order to get the best angle on any given play. But there is much to consider.

“The biggest thing for new officials is not watching the ball,” Evans said. “Your whole career as a fan, you stood there watching the ball. But if the ball’s over in the one corner, that’s not in your area, so we don’t want two sets of eyes there. We want you watching the other players, on the other side of the court.”

Evans also said “preventative officiating” is paramount – that much can be accomplished by communicating with coaches and players as the action unfolds.

“Some coaches you can talk to,” he said, “and say, ‘Coach, you’re wrong. … I missed that, Coach.’ Whatever. You’ve got to know which ones you can talk to, which ones you can’t talk to.”

As for players, Evans said warnings and advice can be issued, before any violations are whistled. Makes for a smoother, cleaner game.

“Learning those things are what’s tough on new officials, that they get as they advance,” he said.

As in other sports, there is a shortage of basketball officials, one that Evans said is “getting serious” locally. While in his estimation the L-L chapter’s recruitment efforts have been largely successful, officials often opt out within two or three years.

“It’s either in you, or it’s not,” he said.

He has few doubts that it’s in Braden. It’s just a matter of him reffing more games, getting more experience. And Bohannon, an exercise science major at LVC who after graduation would like to become a strength and conditioning coach, hopes to move up to varsity games in time, maybe even college assignments. He also aspires to become a football official at some point.

“I’m kind of just doing it now,” he said, “and seeing how far it will take me.”

Just a matter of looking at things from all angles. That’s always the case in officiating, really.

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Gordie Jones is a Lititz-based freelance sportswriter.


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