Rothesay referee heads to national championship

After over 30 years of refereeing basketball games, David McGrattan says his game is still pretty good.

“I’ve put in a lot of time,” the Rothesay man said in an interview. “I have a lot of experience, I’ve been working on university games since 1996.”

Later this month, McGrattan will be refereeing at the men’s national university championships in Halifax, the highest level of amateur sport in Canada.

A love of basketball, and refereeing, is something McGrattan comes by honestly.

He played high school basketball, then played while at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, which “naturally continued into refereeing,” at the urging of his father, Tom McGrattan, also a basketball referee.

Since then, he's worked up from refereeing minor leagues, junior high and high school games, and is now overseeing national games.

Despite years of experience, it’s still all about learning, McGrattan says.

“We’re evaluated every game,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity for me to understand what the rest of the country is doing, learn the best practices, what works better.”

He’ll bring that knowledge back to his fellow referees in New Brunswick, with the goal of constantly improving the game.

“It’s all about making basketball better,” he says. “Players, coaches, officials. It’s all about the development of our game.”

McGrattan says he’s always trying to recruit the next generation of referees, but criticism from fans and coaches alike poses a challenge.

“We’re at a critical point where we won’t have basketball in the next little while if we don’t ease off on some types of negative behaviours from benches and stands,” he said. “We won’t have places to play because we won’t have officials, and that would be a shame.”

When asked what makes a good basketball referee, McGrattan took a long, thoughtful pause before answering.

“Humility,” he said. “Dad taught me years ago, as an official, you’re never bigger than the game itself.”

Tensions can run high at this level of competition, with players and coaches working “extremely hard” to chalk up a win.

“Coaches work hard at this level, that’s their job, they need to succeed,” he said. “Officials need to understand, we need to be a positive part of the game.”

Aside from humility, a thorough knowledge of the game is a must in order to follow the high-speed action.

McGrattan says he’s watched basketball change over the years, becoming more physical and fast.

“It’s a big change from when I played and started refereeing,” he said.

Referees need to be athletes, too, in order to keep up.

McGrattan said some colleagues have tracked their steps and have discovered they run up to seven kilometres over the course of a game.

“I’m not a jogger, I’d never go out and run five or seven kilometres,” he said. “But I guess in a game I don’t notice.”

Communication, too, is a big part of what makes a good referee.

“Because these guys take the game extremely seriously, we want to be able to communicate effectively, let people know this is how we’re handling situations,” he said.

“Tensions can run high, it’s an extremely high-level tournament. This is a big deal.”

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal