Thick skin: the referees officiating the All Native Basketball Tournament

Referees have a tough job at the All Native Basketball Tournament — deafening crowds, long hours and split-second decisions are just part of the job for the game’s arbitrators.

Though often underappreciated, there would be no tournament without the refs.

Shelley Ganchar has been a referee in B.C. for more than 20 years, and was invited to join the ANBT officiating team 13 years ago and is now head of the team.

“It is a tough job. It takes some time to build that thick skin because you need to know your rules,” she said.

“We learn every year, we make mistakes. We are human and we learn from those mistakes, just like anything else in life.”

The ANBT stands out to Ganchar for its unique atmosphere and First Nations culture. With a day job at BC Lotteries, Ganchar takes time off to referee the week-long tournament, a vacation that few would consider a holiday.

Ganchar’s advice to younger referees is relatively simple.

“Work hard. You’re not going to get every call correct, you are going to make mistakes. Don’t dwell on it, learn from it and make sure you get it correct next time,” the Kamloops resident said.

Refereeing was a natural transition for Darcy Williamson, who played and officiated high school basketball, eventually deciding she was a better ref than a player.

According to Williamson, the atmosphere at national-level games she referees does not even compare to the gauntlet that the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre becomes during the ANBT. She said she blocks out rowdy hecklers by reminding herself of her deep knowledge of the game — and the hecklers’ lack thereof.

“When you learn that the people who yell at you the loudest usually have no idea what’s going on, it gets a lot easier to laugh it off.”

Shane Sobus, a five-year ANBT veteran, played at an elite level while he was younger, and refereeing was a good way to stay in the basketball world. He said the ANBT is his favourite tournament to officiate, though admits it took some time to acclimatize to the harsh crowds.

”I’ve played high-level college basketball, so I’m already used to some of this atmosphere, but my first year here was tougher. You learn to deal with it, you learn to get through it.”

For the early stages of the ANBT, two referees are on the court for each game, increasing to three once knockout games begin.

Ganchar said she keeps sharp by taking things one game at a time, though those games come thick and fast over the week. Meditation is also part of her routine as the physical and mental demands mount, with an increase in games and their intensity.

Identifying how certain players play — and which ones are troublemakers — is also essential to Ganchar’s officiating. She said she is always looking to keep players on the court.

“It breaks my heart every time I have to foul someone out… we try to work with the players,” she said.

“My first goal is to do a good job for the players. We don’t want injuries. We don’t want anybody to get hurt, but we also want to give the players the referee work they deserve.”

Ganchar said many of basketball’s rules are up to interpretation, with the amount of permissible contact falling into a grey area.

Williamson agrees, and said having to navigate the complex rules is one of her favourite aspects of refereeing.

“I also really enjoy the puzzle of it, one of the things that really got me interested and devoted to it was all the intricacy and the rules to basketball. I think it’s the most complicated sport to officiate.”

Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View