In order for any high school basketball game to take place there are a few things that are necessary before tipoff can ever happen.
Of course you need a gym in which to play, and you'd better have two teams on the court and some fans in the stands.
But one of the most essential, yet often overlooked, parts of high school basketball isn't the players on the court or the fans in the stands cheering their team on.
It's the men and women who wear stripes.
Referees seek to be invisible every time they take part in sports, but they are without question one of the biggest parts of a successful high school athletic event of any kind, whether its basketball to baseball.
And yet, every day there are fewer and fewer people donning the stripes to take on the challenge of becoming a basketball referee.
Part of that is due to the abuse that referees can undergo from hostile crowds at basketball games, and part of it is simply a lack of patience for all the time that has to be put in before getting to ref a varsity schedule, noted local referee Jesse Joseph, of Little Hocking, who began refereeing his senior year of high school.
But in spite of every challenge on the court, being a referee is one of the most enjoyable jobs a fan of basketball can have.
"We love it. It's something to keep us in shape during the winter," laughed local referee Chuck Leach, of Vincent.
Joseph agreed, and noted there are so many intricacies involved in the game of basketball that the average fan doesn't learn.
As a referee, you learn even more about one of America's most popular games.
A referee's life isn't all fun and games, however.
There's a lot of work involved.
Prior to the start of a game the referees will meet in the locker room the same as what the teams do, and develop a strategy to carry them through the game and put them in position to make the right calls on the floor.
"We'll have our pregame, just talk about if we've had any of the teams, what style of play they have and coaching tendencies," Joseph explained.
The officials will also discuss the style of play and whether teams are physical or finesse, and whether there may be any players who may cause problems with their attitude.
To keep a physical game in check, a referee can't simply let the players battle it out for five minutes and then blow the whistle. Keeping a game under control starts the first time the whistle is blown.
"The easiest thing to keep it under control is call the first foul," Joseph said.
At halftime, the referees will meet just like the players and coaches and go over how they thought the first half went, and what needs to be done to keep the game being played fairly and smoothly.
Each referee has a certain location on the basketball court they're responsible for focusing on, and they'll communicate with each other about positioning during the pregame meeting as well.
All of it is designed to help the refs make the game as smooth as they can.
In the end, the goal is to make certain the game is played to the best of the ability of the players on the court without putting anyone at risk. And the hope is that as officials, they can do their job to keep the game in check without anyone noticing the presence of the mean in stripes.
"If I can go in and out of here and nobody knows Jesse Joseph refereed the game, I'm happy," Joseph said.
Being invisible isn't nearly as easy as the referees would like.
Inevitably, someone is going to feel like they got the bad end of a called foul and the referee will hear about it. It's a judgment call on fouls, and everyone has a little different perspective on what they see on the basketball court.
Learning how to call fouls and keep the game in check is one of the skills a beginning referee has to learn to become a skilled official of the sport.
"The fouls have to fit the situation in the game," Joseph explained.
As Joseph was once told by a college referee, the job of a basketball referee is to control the hundreds, or thousands, of people in the stands at a basketball game without them knowing it.
Setting the tempo of the game, takes place with the first time the whistle is blown.
Referees have to be confident in the call they've made on the court, and put themselves in the position to have the best view possible to make a call.
That requires being in good shape, physically, to get up and down the court while putting in some time examining one's own "game" to become better.
For some officials, like Joseph, that means watching tape just like coaches, and taking notes, just like coaches.
"I will watch the game tape a day after and literally break down every play I make," Joseph said.
All the work that's involved in being a good referee isn't the only deterrent that keeps the number of officials low.
There's also a lot of travel time involved.
Joseph typically will officiate between 60 and 70 games, not counting those games below junior varsity and varsity level, while also calling a few college games.
For those college games he's driven as far as 200 miles one way to officiate a single game. For high school, an official's drive is usually limited to approximately an hour and a half's drive. Still, it's another challenge for officials created by the small number of available referees, so when there's a close contest it's a welcome relief.
"You like these close games cause it makes up for the travel," Leach said.
Officials are assigned to games by a local coordinator, who will work with the high schools to find available referees for each game on the schedule, from junior high hoops all the way to varsity.
Joseph and Leach both operate out of the Parkersburg branch of the Ohio-West Virginia Basketball Officials Association.
To become a referee, potential officials have to undergo a special class designed to teach the rules and regulations of the sport. There is a set amount of classroom work, which is followed by time spent on a basketball court with a mentoring official, usually at the grade school level.
Officiating classes are typically offered in the fall, before the start of basketball season to help provide additional referees for the upcoming season.
The average career expectancy of a referee is only about three to five years, making it difficult to stay on top of the increasing number of games played across not only the Mid-Ohio Valley, but the state.
"If you like the sport at all, there's just so much more into it than you think," Joseph said.