The Post-Journal

Half A Century Behind The Whistle

It was the 1951-52 basketball season and Roger MacTavish, a junior on the Southwestern Central School team, was sitting in the Celoron High School gym planning to watch an intramural game before his team held a practice. However, there wasn't an intramural game to watch because the official didn't show up. That's when MacTavish's coach, Gene Munson, threw him a whistle.

"He said, Go out there, you'll do all right," recalled MacTavish, who had never officiated before.

And why did Munson pick MacTavish?

"I was the only one there," he said.

But it opened up a whole new world for MacTavish, who now lives in Jamestown after residing in Lakewood for most of his life.

"I enjoyed it," he said. "I probably would have never become a basketball official if it hadn't been for Gene. He encouraged me to do it and gave me the opportunity to do it."

And he's still doing it 53 years later and he is in his 48th year as a member of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO).

"I'm amazed," he said when looking back at more than half a century of blowing the whistle. "Actually, it's been my life, to be truthful about it. I've been lucky and fortunate to be around good people and being able to stay healthy. I've been reluctant to yield to the march of time. As long as I can stay healthy and injury-free, I enjoy being on the floor with the kids and making decisions."

MacTavish hasn't been completely injury-free during his long career. He recalled when he had broken ribs, a broken wrist and another time a broken foot, but he continued to work games.

And it's all because Munson, who was also an official, called on him to work that intramural game back in the 1950s.

"I got involved in the rules and he probably wished he hadn't gotten me involved with it," MacTavish recalled. "I would get to school and stand in front of his doorway waiting for him to come in so I could ask him questions about the rules."

Then MacTavish applied what he learned when officiating rec league games and then moved onto high school and college levels, and after more than 50 years of officiating, MacTavish has seen plenty of changes in the rules and two stand out.

"The two big changes are the three point try and the shot clock," he said. "Both of those are significant changes and have changed the game completely. I like the shot clock and most of the time at the high school level it's been proven they shoot within 18 to 20 seconds, so the 30 seconds for boys is no big deal at all, and 35 for girls."

Missing, except for the start of a game and overtime, is the jump ball.

"That's a big change, but I don't mind the alternate-possession procedure," MacTavish said. "The one thing it does for the official is it gets rid of all the Mickey Mouse stuff that happens to the circle."

But on the nostalgic side he added, "I would just as soon go back to the jump ball to be truthful about it because I think it's an important part of the game, people going after the basketball instead of just alternating it."

When asked the toughest call to make, I expected his choice to be deciding if a player charged or was blocked. However, MacTavish's answer was surprising.

"The block-charge call is an easy one as far as I'm concerned," he said. "Traveling is probably one of the hardest calls because everything is so quick, particularly underneath. You have to recognize immediately where the pivot foot is and go from there. If you don't know where the pivot foot is, you can miss traveling very easily."

And it's even more difficult at the college level, which MacTavish stopped working five years ago after 27 seasons.

"The biggest thing from going from high school to college is the speed of the game," he said. "You've got to acclimate yourself to how fast the game is and how physical it is."

He has officiated all levels of college basketball, from junior college to NCAA Division I, and noted, "Division III is the hardest college basketball to work because they're so physical."

When asked about junior college, he said, "It's easier to work than Division III."

But moving up in levels has its advantages.

"The higher you go, the easier it is to referee, MacTavish said. "The skill level is better and there are less violations. When they foul somebody, it's a foul."

MacTavish would have liked to have been a full-time college official at the highest level, but he said, "I got started too late and living in Lakewood made it difficult to get any place. If I had lived in a metropolitan area and started earlier, it would have been a different story."

But no matter what level he officiates, the story is always the same when it comes to fans.

"The biggest problem we have is people that don't know the first thing about the rules and they're yelling at you about certain things and they have no idea what's going on," he said. "They want to referee, but they don't have the gumption to come down and try it. It's one thing to sit in the stands yelling and screaming, but it's another thing to come down here and try it and see what we're going through."

But MacTavish takes the fans' negative criticism as a compliment.

"The more they yell and scream, the better I think I am because I know they don't know what they are talking about," he said.

Someone who has been in the stands many times with positive criticism is his wife of 46 years, Marion.

"My wife is very patient with me and I've been selfish and she's allowed me to be selfish," MacTavish said.

But now at the age of 69, MacTavish may be cutting back his schedule, right?


This week he was scheduled to officiate every night except Thursday. However, he made up for it by working two games on Friday.

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