At the Colorado State High School basketball tournament, everyone on the court has proven they deserve to be with the best of the best.
Including the referees.
Craig residents John Whinery and Darrel Irvin, who serve with the Yampa Valley Officials Association, were chosen to officiate state championship games in Pueblo.
For the two experienced referees — Irvin has been an official for 32 years, and Whinery has been calling games for 10 years — the state tournament is just as exciting for them as it is for the athletes playing in it.
“It’s held in a college gym, and the place is packed,” Irvin said. “So, officials get just as pumped as the kids do.
“You want to do your best. You can feel the excitement, especially at the start of the game.”
Irvin and Whinery each officiated two Class 2A games March 11 and 12.
Irvin covered the Paonia and Holyoke girls and the Hayden and Lutheran Parker boys games, and Whinery was one of the referees for the Ignacio and Wiggins boys game, and the girls semifinal match-up between Akron and Kiowa.
The Yampa Valley Officials Association covers basketball games from Craig and Steamboat Springs to Hayden, Rangely, Soroco and Meeker.
The association typically sends down one or more officials for the state tournament.
“It was my first time,” Whinery said. “It was pretty exciting. I was honored to be there.”
Having someone from the same association helped Whinery with his first state experience, he said.
“I’m glad Darrel was there,” he said. “We’re from the same area, and we could support each other, watch each other’s games.”
Whinery and Irvin are frequent on-court partners for games, but the two were split up for the state match-ups.
“We were assigned other officials to do games with,” Whinery said. “The officials were all from other areas.”
Just as chemistry is important for championship teams, it’s equally important for teams of referees.
“You’re used to seeing each other, so you know their strengths,” Whinery said. “When you are (at the state tournament), you don’t know what you have. But everyone who is chosen is pretty good.”
Irvin had the same partners from last year. He has officiated seven state tournaments in his career.
“I had an advantage, having worked with the same guys before,” he said. “That’s the challenge to us as officials — there are three of us trying to call the same game.”
Between watching for fouls and keeping up with the pace of the game, Irvin said he has been able to watch some memorable games.
“Last year, it was a privilege to watch a two-point ballgame,” he said. “I was at a championship game that was a one-point game, and the team that lost should have won at the buzzer.”
Irvin said the state tournament is the highlight of the year for referees.
“That’s what we work for,” he said. “If you do a good job during the season, the coaches, athletic directors and area directors vote for you.”
The Yampa Valley Officials Association currently has 21 certified basketball referees, and area director Mike Durner said the association always is looking for more.
“We are constantly looking for new people,” he said. “We look for younger folks recently out of school who want to stay in touch with the game.
“The armchair fans who make every call from the stands, we encourage them to apply, too.”
Anyone interested in becoming a referee can call Durner at 629-1832.
Ben Bulkeley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.