When Rules Suck

Allison Nazarian Real Life, The Life of Allison

I promised myself I would write today, but I didn’t expect to be writing about this. In the grand scheme of things, what I am about to tell you about is certainly no big deal and I will likely have forgotten about it (I hope) in a few days’ time.

But right now I am sobbing uncontrollably and very, very angry.

This is what happened:

My daughter had a basketball game this morning at 10. I sat with my Ex, her dad, on the bleachers, chatting throughout with him and some friends and watching what had been for the most part an uneventful game. (I think the final score was 10-8.)

We had remarked to one another a few times that the Ref was not physically up to the task of his job (he could not make it back and forth across the court and generally stayed in the middle and watched from there). We’d also remarked, especially toward the end of the game, that he had all but lost control of the game. He’d whistle for play to stop and the girls would continue playing. No one understood who was being penalized for what. It wasn’t what you would call the most organized game with the most authoritative Ref.

But truth be told, it didn’t really matter. These were 9-, 10- and 11-year old girls playing. As long as they were having fun and learning about the game, I was happy. (Of course, we always prefer a win to a loss, but it is what it is.)

With 30-something seconds left in the game, my daughter made a great defensive play and started dribbling the ball across the court, back to her basket, at a pretty high speed. She collided with a girl from the other team, and both went down. It was just one of those inevitable sports collisions in which no one was at fault.

My daughter, though, rarely goes down because she is generally the tallest girl on the court and it isn’t easy to knock her down. The few times she has gone down, she has gotten right back up. She is not a crier or a complainer. Some basketball players of all genders and ages over-dramatize their falls and hits (heck, players of all sports – remember the Derek Jeter fake display earlier in the summer?).

It had been a long game and her team was ahead by one basket and I am sure all she wanted was for the game to end without anyone else scoring (unless it was her).

So when she didn’t get up and was holding her face and crying loudly, I stood up immediately.

AS ANY PARENT WOULD.

In the split second between the hard fall onto the court and the thought that that hard sound had been a hit on her face or her head, I was down the bleachers and onto the court.

AS ANY PARENT WOULD HAVE DONE.

In the first few moments, as I tried to listen through her crying and figuring out what was wrong, I remember starting to ask myself if I should call 911. Those of you who know me personally know that while in some cases I do emotionally over-react to life’s curveballs, I am never, ever, ever what you would call an over-protective mother. I also do not coddle my kids and I do not stop the presses if one of them falls or claims to have an ache or pain or complains about something physical. I know my kids well enough to know what is real and what is fleeting. So for me to even have a thought about 911 means that in that moment my intuition was telling me that this could be a big deal.

As I was getting to the court and thinking about 911 and watching my daughter hold her face in her hands, I was focused on her. And as I was honing in in that moment on her, out of nowhere the Ref appeared.

“Get off the court, no parents allowed,” he BARKED at me.

I may have said something, or I may have ignored. I think it was the latter, but I am not certain.

He barked at me again. (And the word “bark” is no exaggeration. He was angry and yelling and unwavering.)

“GET OFF THE COURT BEFORE I EJECT YOU.”

EJECT ME?! From what? My role as mother? I kept thinking, “Is this guy really all over me, right now in this moment?”

Now you have to understand, the gym had gone SILENT. As soon as my daughter and the other girl had fallen, the game, of course, had been stopped and all eyes were on the two girls. (At some point, the other girl got up and was uninjured.)

I do remember replying to him around that point, “Do not make an example of me right now. This is not the right time.”

The guy would not listen. It was all about the “rules” for him. He literally did not give a shit that my daughter was splayed out on the court, sobbing and unmoving. (Don’t get me wrong — I TOTALLY understand why these rules are in place. I have seen enough out-of-control, overly-involved, we-know-better-than-the-Ref Boca parents to understand why these rules are what they are. I am not one of those parents. I am the parent who is for the most part quiet on the sidelines, always deferring to the coach or the Ref. I let the Ref do his job, and I let the Coach, who is a volunteer, do his. I respect everyone and generally keep my mouth shut unless I am chatting with the person next to me.)

My head was going back and forth, up to him (I was kneeling down on the court next to my kid) and back to her. I remember thinking, “Really?! Really?! I have to deal with this asshat right now while I am trying to help my kid?!” (Yes, I used the word “asshat” in my inner dialogue. Boy, is it ever fun being me!)

By that point, he had started to cause a huge scene. He was getting very ugly and I even had a fleeting thought that physically he would touch me in a forceful way. (He absolutely did not, but I felt threatened in that way. He was that much in my space, and he was way above me since I was on the ground. It felt awful.)

It was being determined (by my daughter’s coach, I think) that the injury was her knee and not her head, thankfully. So as that sunk in, I realized that I needed to move because this guy was like a pitbull that would not let go.

Some people got my daughter up and off the court. I followed. The Ref was still focused entirely on me, though.

(Question: Isn’t the official’s job, first and foremost, the safety of the players? So why did this asshole not look once at my kid? I thought at first that she was unconscious, yet he never once assessed her condition or even looked at her. This is someone who is paid to put safety first?!)

In the ensuing semi-chaos, my daughter was ok (that is the most important thing) but very shaken and a little glassy. Other mothers, including those I do not know and with whom I have never spoken directly, approached me to voice their disgust and horror at what had happened and how I was treated. My daughter’s coach, who is a wonderful coach who really cares about the girls, voiced his surprise at how the Ref handled the situation.

On the other hand, the Assistant Coach, surprisingly, kept trying to explain to me why the “rules” were being followed and why the “rules” were so important. His biggest concern seemed to be that this Ref was now going to be filing some report or some sort of technical foul was being assessed on the team BECAUSE OF ME.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT ONE?! A FOUL BECAUSE OF ME?!

After he said the word “rules” like eight times, I stopped him, and said something like “I don’t give a fucking shit about the rules when my daughter is on the ground with a possible concussion. My daughter’s safety comes before the rules.”

He seemed confused as to how that could be. Whatever.

All of this had happened in a matter of like four or five minutes. As I began to see that my daughter was OK and that I had been wronged pretty publicly and harshly, a wave of emotion swept over me. I ended up leaving pretty hysterically in tears before the after-game snacks were over, leaving my kid and her Dad there (they had another car, don’t worry).

It was weird and upsetting. Like I said, I am sure I will be over it soon. My daughter barely saw or noticed what went down, which is good. But I know all of the Moms there saw it and were pretty upset. And alienated by someone who is supposedly there to maintain order and fairness and civility.

I left a phone message for Jeff, head of the West Boca Basketball League. I asked for a call back and the Official’s name. (Nothing yet.)

I will end with the email I just sent to the coach of my daughter’s team. I am curious what you all would have done in my position?

Thanks for hearing me out, by the way. Love you all :

Hi Coach,

What happened today was pretty upsetting. I feel good knowing that I and any other responsible parent in that gym would do the EXACT same thing again in the same position.

I understand rules and I understand why these particular rules about parents are in place – – like you, I am sure, I have seen many over-excited, out-of-line parents get involved in many unnecessary ways on and of the court. But this was NOT such an incident. I thought my daughter had hit her face or head. In such a case, there is NO rule more important than that.

The Ref, who physically is not up to this role and who in every other way had already lost all control of the game, was, to say the least, out of line. He alienated EVERY mother in that gym and he harassed me in a moment in which I was already panicked. He could not even look me in the eye later when I came up to him. (To further illustrate his complete lack of perspective or reality, he allowed Maya’s dad to stay on the court “because he is a coach.” As you know, he is NOT a coach.)

At the very least, he owes me an apology which I am not holding my breath for. As far as the bigger picture, this man should NOT be in this role — aside from the physical inability to do the job and the lack of authority, he obviously does not have the girls’ health or well-being as a priority and that is a HUGE concern. This is a league that today did not practice what it constantly preaches.

If you could please let me know his full name, I would appreciate it.

Thank you,

Allison Nazarian

Update: The League Director replied to my email. He did not like that I wrote about my personal experiences on my own blog. He didn’t like that I made this incident public (paraphrasing) though his employee attacked me very publicly. He seemed disgusted by me and never once acknowledged me on a personal level or as a parent. Apparently the officials have carte blanche to verbally attack and/or intimidate in the name of “the rules.”

My favorite part of the director’s response: I have never seen any participant handle things the way you have chosen.  It’s new ground for me as Director and for our league.  Our League is designed to promote fun for children who want to play basketball, not for people like you to somehow turn events in one of our gyms into some kind of story that vindicates your actions or helps you gain readers.  West Boca Basketball is not intimidated by your written report, which is at best inaccurate with regard to several items.” (Underline was mine. And by the way, it is not YOUR gym. It is a middle school gym in a public school.)

Thanks for totally not getting the point on ANY level, Jeff. And yea, I am sure my personal story on this silly game in your league will bring in tons of new readers! That is exactly why I wrote it!