This is the first year the state of Rhode Island is hosting an open state tournament. At the conclusion of the tournament there will be one state champion. The top schools from each division were invited to play in a single elimination NCAA style tournament.
Middletown High School, my daughter’s team, went one and done. MHS played Juanita Sanchez, a team with the best girls’ high school player I have had the privilege of watching- Davida Dale. Next year she is going to play at Syracuse. The Juanita victory set up the much-anticipated match up between the number one seed Barrington High School vs Juanita Sanchez.
Jim and I are huge basketball fans. We couldn’t resist the chance to watch the elite 8 match up between the top teams in the state and we were also excited to watch a future ACC player. When we arrived at the game we settled in for a great match-up but we were in for a sour surprise.
Instead of watching a great game we witnessed the most heinous and lopsided officiating I have ever seen in a game. One of the tenants of Rhode Island Interscholastic League mission is equity, fairness, and justice. Watching this game made it apparent that these are just words because the actions of the officials painted a very different picture.
Early in the second half the referees put the Juanita Sanchez players in foul trouble giving the Barrington team the advantage of shooting free throws. This would be okay but the difference was the whistle was blown against Juanita for anticipatory fouls where the foul never occurred against the Barrington girls. The officials never noticed the numerous infractions of the Barrington players like slapping, pushing, shoving, traveling, and going over the back. The officials were forced to call fouls on Barrington players during extreme situation like when a Juanita Sanchez player was thrown to the floor.
While this is the worst officiating I have seen sadly this is not the first time I have seen favoritism in calls. Over the years I have observed that calls generally go in favor of schools that have a predominately white population.
I freely admit that the job of a referee is not an easy one. Refs have to make tough calls, sometimes they make good calls and sometimes they make bad ones. However, the outcome of a game should never be swayed by the calls from a referee. The officials need to demonstrate equity, fairness, and justice.
It is easy to claim that race was the primary cause of the disparity in the calls during the Juanita Sanchez and Barrington game, but I doubt that is the issue. What I believe I witnessed was a group of people who were unaware that they had an internal biases. The real travesty will be if these biases continue unchecked. Officials need training on more than just the rules of the game; referees need to learn critical thinking skills. They need to learn to identify their biases and learn the appropriate way to react if they do have a bias.
As a coach in the state of Rhode Island seeing this type of behavior makes me question if I want to remain affiliated with high school athletics in this state. Not only does it not align with my personal values it goes against the values and mission of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. We need to make the words equity, fairness, and justice more than just words on a webpage.