The Crystal Lake South boys basketball team sprints through a row of cheerleaders and onto the court. Parents jump to their feet and applaud as the band breaks into the school fight song. Students file into seats. Coaches scribble plays on a whiteboard.
Meanwhile, three referees stand silently along the sideline wearing freshly pressed pants and shiny black shoes. It’s often said the mark of a good referee is one you don’t notice, so it would be easy to get caught up in the pageantry of this Friday night basketball game and overlook what is unique about this refereeing crew.
But look closer. See the resemblance?
Brothers Scott, Steve and Chris Massie have been a fixture in gyms around the northwest Chicago suburbs for almost three decades. (Steve has officiated high school basketball for 28 seasons, Scott for 27 and Chris for about 15.)
Throughout those years, the games and the memories have piled up – the time they called a technical foul on a coach and sat down for a burger with him the same night; the time a cheerleader kicked Chris in the head; the time they dodged water bottles that were thrown onto the court; the time they attended a coach’s wedding; the time they ejected a school administrator … the list goes on.
“We were working a game at Crystal Lake Central,” Scott said. “They were going the other way on a fast break. As I was sprinting toward the end line, a little boy about 2 years old came darting out in front of me.
“I picked him up like a football, ran to the baseline and handed him off to one of the cheerleaders as the play continued.”
By and large, however, the games go on without anyone noticing the refs. And that’s a good thing.
On this night, the Huntley and Crystal Lake South basketball teams finish their warm-ups and take their place around midcourt. Scott tosses the ball into the air. Another game is underway.
• • •
The way they tell the story, the Massie brothers’ journey into officiating tipped off when Scott was 16.
He got his drivers license and a job with the park district officiating youth basketball games. His younger brothers followed suit when they were still at Dundee High School and, before long, the brothers had worked their way up from officiating freshman basketball to sophomore basketball to junior varsity and finally varsity.
Scott and Steve each have officiated three times at the state basketball tournament – the maximum allowed by the IHSA – including in 2007 when they became the first set of brothers to ref the tournament together.
“That was the highlight of my career,” Scott said. “I’m sure it was the highlight of my brothers' as well.”
Playoff games are assigned on merit, and the Massies have officiated plenty of them. Ask around the Fox Valley Conference and you’ll see that the Massies earned respect from coaches.
“We went to the coaches’ meeting every year where we discussed officials,” said Jim Hinkle, who coached at Jacobs for half a century. “There were always officials that coaches hoped they’d never see again and others they really enjoyed seeing and were glad they worked their games. They always came in the latter category.”
Barry Burmeister, now the athletic director at McHenry, remembers that the Massie brothers gave him his first technical foul almost 30 years ago. Did he deserve it?
“Oh, I probably deserved it way before he gave it to me,” Burmeister laughed. “But after he gave it to me, he said, ‘Do you want another one?’ I said, ‘Well, I didn’t want the first one.’”
Burmeister developed a fast friendship with the Massie brothers through all those years on the court. He even invited them to his wedding. Still, one thing the Massies stress is there are no special favors for friends.
“We talked and I said, just because you know people, you have to call the game the way you see it,” Hinkle said. “They really learned well. I probably had them for 40 games. I don’t even remember getting a break from them.”
• • •
Back at Crystal Lake South, Huntley has rallied from a 16-point deficit to cut South's lead to one point. Down the stretch, the Gators are clinging to a four-point lead when Chris calls a reach-in foul on the Red Raiders, sending the Gators to the line for a one-and-one.
A Huntley player shakes his head and mutters something. The next minute, Scott blows his whistle and sharply brings his hands together to call a technical foul.
South hits all four of its free throws to help seal a 60-55 victory.
In the locker room after the game, the Massie brothers break down the calls, the same way they do after every game. In this game, the conversation quickly shifts to what was in a lot of ways a game-changing call.
Scott: “You were coming to report the personal foul. The kid didn’t see me standing there and bellowed out some vulgar language.”
Chris: “That was an F-bomb there?”
Scott: “Yup. I went over to (coach) Will (Benson) and he said, ‘Well, now they have a chance for a seven-point play.’ I said, ‘Well, you need to tell your guy to keep his big yap shut. He said, ‘Well, I just don’t like the rule.’”
Chris: “Nobody likes the rule. We don’t like giving out technicals. The IHSA really stresses sportsmanship. If a player uses language like that on the floor and you don’t take the appropriate action, if the other coach hears it, it’s a big problem.”
In the meantime, Steve has come back from the shower.
Chris: “Steve, can I borrow your towel?”
Scott: “Hey, he stole my towel!”
Chris: “Who did?”
Scott: “Steve did.”
Chris smiles slyly. He digs a towel out from the bottom of his locker.
Chris: “Does your towel say this on it?”
Scott: “Hey, that’s my towel. Give me that!”
Scott snatches the towel back from Chris.
Scott: “See what I’ve got to put up with?”
Scott, Chris and Steve all laugh. Did we mention they’re brothers?