You make the call with Chris Pirtle
Chris Pirtle has been a high school basketball referee for 19 years and very well knows how the job functions. From calling games that’ve went down to the wire to dealing with angry fans shouting at the top of their lungs because of a call they didn’t agree with, Pirtle walks us through his time as an official and breaks down the gig.
Times have changed from 1998 to now for Pirtle, as he has moved from refereeing mostly junior varsity games to mostly varsity contests. With the transition, the experienced official has witnessed and been a part of some of the best games that’ve ever happened in Kentucky.
Pirtle had the chance to call one of the best games in the 4th Region this past hoops season between two of the top foes.
“I had a game this year with Bowling Green and Franklin (Simpson), which are two premier teams with talent in the Region,” he said. “It was at Franklin and was pretty awesome. The place was packed all the way up to the top, the fans were rowdy, the coaches and players were into it – and we were into it as officials.
The Purples, the 2017 state champion, led by double digits at one point, but the Wildcats kept fighting back. Bowling Green ended up escaping with a 62-59 win.
“You want games like that because they’re great and they keep your head in the game and you just want to do a good job for the kids out there.”
Refereeing is one of the best ways a person can be around basketball many hours a week while also earning commission for doing it. Referees get the chance to watch many great games while working on the same court the coaches and players are performing on. From buzzer-beating three-pointers to having to handle a fired-up coach, officials are right in the middle of the action.
“One of the benefits of being a referee are being in the action,” Pirtle states. “Being in those big-game situations and the friendships that you make. Some of the best friendships I’ve had have been with other officials. You have trust your partners and know that they’re gonna do their job out there. It’s all real rewarding.”
The job offers many positive sides, but there are also some challenges.
“One of the biggest challenges is being able to handle the pressure from the coaches, fans and players,” Pirtle noted. “It’s a game that you’re in that’s very important to the players and the coaches. The challenge is when you have a chaotic situation in a game and you’re controlling the chaos. That’s a big part of officiating.”
As everyone knows, the fans are always the biggest challenge for referees, but Pirtle says it’s just part of it.
“As far as the fans are concerned, you’re gonna hear things – it’s just part of the game,” said Pirtle. “Some fans are gonna be worse than others. But those people pay to get in and you’re gonna hear some crazy things, but it’s part of it. It kind of fires me up. It makes for a better game.”
19 years may now be book for Pirtle, but he’s just getting started. He plans to continue doing what he loves until he physically must hang it up – and that shows how passionate the official is about his job.
“It’s all about how good your health is and how long you can keep up with the game,” Pirtle added. “The game is faster now. The kids push the ball more and are faster and when you can’t keep up anymore and be in position, you’re kind of hurting the game by being in there. I think we all know when it’s time to hang it up.
“I’m not close to that yet – I think I have a lot of time left.”
Pirtle says they can always use new officials to call great basketball games – and if you’re interested, email assignment secretary Troy Winders at firstname.lastname@example.org.