An End of an Era, No More Hoops Today

If you have been a reader of the Newport Daily Express, or other local publications, every winter you were treated to the words and wisdom of one the better officials in the game of basketball; Dave Cowens. In his bi-weekly column Hoop Du Jour, no relation to Jerry Carino, Dave educated and entertained fans with his explanations on the rules of the game as well as anecdotes about his thirty- two years of officiating Vermont and New Hampshire high school hoops. Now, after fourteen years and an estimated 125,000 words that have both taught and tickled his readers, Cowens has decided to hang up his keyboard. As he said in his final column, he originally came up with the idea after sitting in the stands, watching his daughter play and having to listen to spectators, most unfamiliar with the rules of basketball, berate the officials. This was in 1997. From that point on, he became the voice of the men and women in stripes, and to an extent, officials in all sports, trying to give simple, layman explanations for the perplexing rules on the game he grew up with. Over the years Hoop Du Jour developed, and after three seasons, the All-Floorburn team came to be. The Floorburn group exemplified an "Anti-All-Star Team," the blue collar players that were willing to do the dirty work, the little things that a team needs to be successful. Upon reading his final column, I figured that a phone call to the guy who taught me, a self admitting basketball novice, a tremendous amount about the game, was in order. Having never spoken to each other in person, Dave was kind gracious enough to take this call from a relative stranger. We chatted for almost an hour about a variety of issues pertaining to basketball, hockey, his life in sports and things having nothing to with athletics. Here is what came of that conversation. Mike Olmstead: Lets start at the beginning; How did you get into basketball, and specifically officiating? Dave Cowens: My Dad was the basketball coach at Catholic Central. He was the coach while the school went through a variety of name changes, St. Gabriels, Notre Dame and finally Catholic Central. He taught me the love of basketball. He was also an official, giving me my first whistle when I was six years old, an old silver Acme model I still carry today. MO: And your first time wearing the stripes? DC: In sixth grade there was a 3rd and 4th grade game, and my Dad told me to get out there. That was the first time. As for varsity, I became certified to referee in 1982. MO: What is your style of officiating? Are you more of a let them play, or a call everything type of ref? DC: Let them play. I let let them play and adjust to me. I am an advantage-disadvantage style of ref. An official told me long ago that when I blow the whistle, everyone in the whole building is going to want to know what you what you've got. MO: Is their one specific game, one moment that really stands out to you? DC: (Pauses) No one specific game, you know you have to always be ready... no wait, there was one game. It was a blown call on my part four years ago in a boy's semi-final game in Barre between Twin Valley and Williamstown, and it made the WCAX news. Williamstown was down by two with the ball. There were three refs on the floor. One was watching the clock, and the other two the play. As the back ref, the shot was going to be my responsibility. It was an incredible sequence; In one motion, a player shot the ball, got blocked and before hitting the floor, shot again, and made it. I did not see if it was a two or a three, and I called a two. Neither one of the other two guys knew whether it was a two or three, so I stuck with the two. Williamstown eventually won the game in overtime, and as I was sitting up in the Crows Nest post game, a player, Evan Tuller, came up to me and said 'Mr. Cowens, you missed the call, it was a three, not a two.' He showed me the video on his cell phone, and sure enough it was. Bottom line, I blew the call, and luckily Williamstown went on to win, so it was not a factor in the outcome. If it wasn't for technology, I never would have known. MO: What is the most frustrating you have encountered while wearing the black and white? DC: As a whole, it is frustrating as a ref when people don't know the rules. Screaming fans don't bother me, that is why I love doing games in Barre. When people are going crazy, you don't hear the coaches of the fans yelling at you. But when it is quiet, you can hear everything, and it is tough when the people yelling don't know what they are talking about. However, I teach the rules class for northeastern Vermont, and have had parents and coaches come in and take the class. When they come in, I tell them 'You think you know the rules, but you don't.' The rule book is difficult to work with, so I try to make it as simple as possible. It is a breath of fresh air to see people who want to have a better understanding of the game and are willing to put in the time to do so. MO: Let's shift gears. You have spoken about how Hoop Du Jour came about, but what about your interest in writing, where did that come from? DC: It started out as a love of writing and story telling. The nuns at school were a big influence on me. They taught us the basics, reading, math, writing, and I just always like to write. MO: Do you have any favorite writers, or columnists that have influenced you? DC: No real sports influences, but I do enjoy reading Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. I also like Rick Reilly. Guys that are not afraid of putting it out there, that are not mean spirited, although ( with a chuckle) Shaughnessy can be a bit mean. MO: 125, 000 words add up really quickly. Are there any special moments throughout your writing career that stand out to you. DC: When people gain an understanding of a rule that they did not know before. When a guy now understands the back-court rule, that is great. You know, I take guitar lessons and my teacher is a fan of my column. I wrote comparing her teaching me how to play and me teaching someone how to ref. I wrote that she made it looks so easy. She later came up to me and said how easy I made refereeing look. MO: What will you miss most about writing Hoop Du Jour? DC: I like to write. When I get a thought in my head I can write 1'000 words on it with little difficulty. I'll miss having a thought, like seeing something in a game, and going 'I should write a column on that.' I don't like to keep things to myself. If I feel the need to say something or write something, I liked having the forum to get it out there. MO: As you look back on the fourteen years that you have enlightened the folks in this area, can you say that you have met you goal of educating the masses? DC: I would say so. If anyone learned one thing, than I have accomplished my goal. Clearly it is the silent majority who read what I write, but I have had people come up to me, one guy here in St. Jay in particular, and tell me that they have learned something from my writings. MO: Thank you for taking time out of your day to chat with me. It has been a pleasure. DC: You’re welcomd, call me if you need anything else. MO: Will do.