March Madness means basketball in Indiana. Like most Hoosiers, Greg Hayes loves basketball. But he would rather referee than play. The lean 40-year-old had a goal to referee in a state finals championship tournament game.
His mother, Jane Robbins, a typical "little league mother" had always tried to follow her children's activities when they were younger. When Greg first started officiating, however, Jane didn't attend the games. Then her daughter-in-law invited her to go along and Jane got hooked. She was so excited when she heard Greg had a chance to referee a girls state final game.
"The girl's games are extremely exciting, high quality games" Jane said. "I couldn't believe I might have a chance to see a championship game plus watch my son officiate."
Jane vowed if Greg was chosen, she would be there. Even her upcoming surgery wouldn't keep her from that game.
Greg knew he'd set a rather lofty goal because men with twice his experience had never gotten to do a state final. He just became interested in refereeing in 1987 when he was watching two of his daughters play in their Rosedale Junior High game.
"The officials were terrible," Greg said. "And they were very overweight and had a hard time running up and down the court. I told my wife, Ann, 'I could probably do that good'."
Ann relayed the story to her sister, Jamie, who is an Indiana High School Athletic Association volleyball official. Jamie told her mother who had an IHSAA basketball official application form sent to Greg.
Almost on a whim, he filled it out and sent it back. Greg began his second career in 1987 as a registered official with the State of Indiana in basketball and baseball.
Being registered qualified him to referee and umpire basketball and baseball at levels up to and including Jr. High, Junior Varsity and Varsity.
But Greg had to add the state certification to qualify for any tournament play. It took him six years to finally get certified in 1993. That was the easy part.
Refereeing for any state tournament game is not just a matter of signing up. The referee must belong to one of the states 26 official's associations. Greg is a member of the Wabash Valley Official Association.
After meeting IHSAA qualifications and logging the required number of games, a potential referee must be voted on by the state's high school coaches and pass inspection by IHSAA observers. It can be a subjective process with some rather abstract qualifiers. Even mechanics may be the determining factor for selection.
When chosen to do a sectional, the referee then begins the process of going through the ranks. He or she must referee three sectional games to qualify to do a regional game. Three regionals are necessary to move on to the semi-state. Three semi-states are required to reach the state pinnacle.
While all of that is necessary to qualify for a state final game, being qualified doesn't mean you'll be selected. The odds are very low that an official will be picked the first time he qualifies.
Greg was shocked and thrilled that he was selected in his first year of eligibility.
"There are so many guys who have worked years and never got to go to the state," he said. "This is such an honor."
Greg's mother, also, was ecstatic about her son's selection. "We are definitely going to see that game," Jane told her husband, Dan. "It may be his only time to go."
Once a referee does a state championship he's not eligible to repeat for at least four years. And there are no guarantees even then.
Jane had to have surgery to remove a papilloma in a milk duct in her left breast. Her doctor told her it probably was not cancerous. But even if it was, because they caught it so early, there should be little health threat once it was removed. Her surgery was scheduled for Friday, March 7.
On March 2, Greg was notified that he was one of the eight referees chosen to do the girls state basketball finals on March 8.
Tomorrow: Greg goes to the state finals but does his mother see the game?