Refereeing isn’t an easy job, but somebody has to do it. However, the guys who do so at San Quentin say they love it.
Despite numerous complaints about how games are called, the referees come to work every weekend.
“Complaints come no matter what,” said Willie “Butch” Thompson. “After the game they apologize, realizing it ain’t nothing but a game.” Thompson said he “feels good about being a ref. It’s a good thing to be doing. A good way to get to know everybody and it keeps me out of trouble,” he added. He also umpires and refs football games.
Robert Lee aka “Joey Crawford,” said, “I love it! I look forward to it every week.” Lee has been refereeing for 17 years. He started out at Solano State Prison and became a ref because he got too old to play, wanting to stay close to the game he loves.
San Quentin Warriors Coach Daniel Wright recognizes “the refs have a very difficult job.” Wright suspended a player for two games for disrespecting a referee. “When it comes to the Warriors, it’s about attitude, integrity and outside team safety—talent is a distant second. I will not allow a player to show up a ref. That’s why the two-game suspension was warranted,” Wright said.
The refs don’t get it right all the time. “A lot of complaints are legit. They don’t bother me—it’s the way you complain,” said Lee. “I listen to complaints sometimes ‘cause I can be wrong,” admitted Herman “Black” Shead. “I just call what I see and stand by it,” added Thompson. “I’m not perfect. I do the best I can and as long as I’m being honest and fair, I can live with the results,” said Isaiah “Cap” Caldwell.
On the other hand, sometimes guys with illegitimate gripes are “just cry babies,” stated Thompson. “No one is going to agree with every ref call. They do their best. You win by putting the ball in the basket,” said Drew Piazza. “Losers make excuses, winners make plays,” Lee added.
There are two organized basketball leagues at San Quentin and the established teams: Warriors, and “over-40” Kings.
Piazza is the commissioner for the Intra-Mural League, while Aaron “Harun” Taylor is commissioner for the Championship Basketball League. Taylor is also a sports writer for San Quentin News.
Referees for the Intra-Mural League and Championship Basketball League receive no compensation; however, Kings and Warriors referees receive a pair of tennis shoes for their work at the end of the season.
Marcus Cosby and James “Loco” Freeman referee games for CBL and Corey “St. Louis” Woods refs games for the Kings.
Piazza says he has put out notices to recruit new refs. “The labor is plenty, but the workers are few. So we do the best we can with those who volunteered to do it for free,” added Piazza.