John Hampton makes the calls at Division I basketball games
The basketball game is on—fans are screaming, a ball is bouncing on the hardwood, sneakers are squeaking. All of the boisterous excitement reverberates through the arena. But then a whistle shrills. Everything stops. All eyes shift to one referee.
On any given night, that referee could very well be John Hampton, an NCAA Division I men’s basketball official and a member of Blue Grass Energy.
THE THIRD TEAM
Hampton is a member of the third team on the floor—the referee crew.
Today Hampton drove four hours to referee a Division I battle in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s now 9:35 p.m., and Hampton still has a four-hour drive back to Carlisle.
It is a rigorous job. If the location is too far to drive, referees typically are required to take the first flight out on game day, usually a 6 a.m. flight. He is away from home a lot.
He is also under extreme scrutiny. A supervisor grades his performance after each game, and he also hears from the media and, these days, fans armed with social media to air their views.
“You can’t make many mistakes and remain a referee,” Hampton says.
Preparation for the public part of being a referee is markedly similar to that of the players.
The referees warm up physically and prepare mentally. They have to keep pace with the teenage athletes and focus intensely on every move. As the other two teams are talking
strategy, Hampton and his team do likewise. After the game, he and
his fellow refs meet with an official observer to discuss their performance just as the players meet with their coach. Hampton will watch the game tape with the official observer and then complete a form critiquing his own performance.
But being a referee is also a thrill, especially for a lifelong athlete who played basketball, football and base- ball in high school and then baseball for the University of Kentucky.
“It’s like an extension of my playing days,” Hampton says. “You are still in the game, still on the floor. For a former athlete, refereeing is a way of remaining an athlete.”
For Hampton, the job is also a family affair. Hampton’s father, Doug, was a referee. Younger brother Brent is also a Division I referee. Son Wilson aspires to be a referee.
“As a young boy growing up
in Cynthiana during the 1970s and early ’80s, I went to games with
my father,” Hampton recalls “I remember driving all over Kentucky with him. This gave us a lot of quality time together. It was really
a blessing for a young boy very much into sports. After the game we would discuss how the game went, how the teams played and how
specific players and coaches did.” Sometimes friends joined them. “Dad would referee and then
take us out to eat. By the time we got back home, dad had lost money,” Hampton laughs.
Hampton, however, has learned important life lessons along with the finer points of basketball.
“Sportsmanship comes to mind quickly,” Hampton says. “Fairness is another. As a referee, your job is to be neutral and fair.”
As exciting as it is, Hampton says being a referee is like every other job in some ways.
“You strive to be good,” the father of two says. “It is impossible to be perfect in the officiating business, but it’s your job to work hard to get better each game. No matter what kind of game you had, go to the next one trying to be better.”
Hampton arrives home at 2 a.m. The next morning, he is at his other job as owner of the GCH Insurance Group.
He loves all of it—the stress, the physicality and especially the game itself.
“I love being on the floor and in the game,” he says. “As a former athlete, it’s like you’re still playing. Still competing.”
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