By Sue Moore
Who doesn’t have an opinion on referee calls? Who doesn’t shout them out from time to time?
Take heed from brothers Dave and Ken Blough, high school basketball officials from Vicksburg, who say they rarely hear the catcalls from the audience. “The crowd noise is muffled, mostly coming across to the officials as background noise, especially if it is a close, competitive game,” Ken Blough contends.
“The fuller the gym, the more noise, but as officials we have a single-minded focus on the game,” Dave Blough says. His brother Ken, who is usually the lead official of the team of three, does interact with the coaches. “I will listen and acknowledge their concerns and give them respect, but I’m not going to change what I’m doing. I’d rather have a coach yelling at me than at the kids.”
“Coaches want an understanding of how the game will be called. That’s all the coaches want to know, like what we will call and what we will let go,” Ken says. “Dave can blow the whistle and I will know what he is calling right away. We have a trust that helps to speed up the game, so I can be moving to the action while he is even in the process of making the call. The kids will let you know how you are doing too, but it’s very rare when a player will talk back to us. At times, we may even compliment a kid who has made a good play.”
Ken continues: “I know a foul when I see it. Anything that impedes the flow of the game qualifies. We tend to call a game the way we played it in high school. Dave was more of a wing player and would drive to the basket. I was a thug at times, played rough as a short center at 6’ 2. I would do anything I could think of to get a legal advantage. I had to rebound and play defense so I look at it a bit differently from Dave. My senior year we were 12-10 and went to the district finals with Rob Brown and Ben Neal as our star players.”
The brothers say they try not to call anything they don’t actually see happen on the court. At one point while refereeing at Battle Creek St. Phillip, Ken had his back turned to the action as the guard was bringing the ball up the court. The crowd noise got intense and he realized the player might have stepped out of bounds. But he didn’t feel he could call it, not having seen it happen. When action stopped a short time after that, a priest was standing near the gym door, and Ken acknowledged to him that he might have missed that call. The priest quickly replied, “That’s ok, we’re in the business of forgiveness.”
The Blough brothers officiate as a team along with one other person. They are given their schedules through the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s (MHSAA) assigners who get the schedules from the athletic directors and then schedule varsity boys and girls games for most of the state. Referees get about $60 each per game and no mileage, so it’s clear they do it for the love of the game. The Bloughs usually end up at schools to the south and east of Vicksburg. Ken does the driving to games and Dave pays for dinner afterwards.
“As brothers, we can be honest with each other going home,” says Dave.
“It isn’t often, but I may say to Ken something like, ‘I don’t think that was your best night,’ but we rarely have to make that comment. I do the refereeing because I can spend quality time with my brother. We also play golf for fun but not real often as we literally tear up the course with our hi-jinks.”
They got their start officiating freshmen and JV games with a nudge from Mike Roy, Vicksburg’s athletic director, about 15 years ago. Both Dave and Ken played basketball for Vicksburg High School, having graduated in 1983, and 1986 respectively. Their father, Mike Blough, taught and coached football and basketball at Vicksburg. Ken and Dave both took officiating as a physical education class while attending Hope College. Ken pursued taking the state test and refereed college intermural games and city league basketball in Holland and the Portage city league, once he moved back to the area.
Dave on the other hand chose to join the Peace Corps after college. He served in the Philippines where he met his wife Marissa. Upon returning to the Kalamazoo area, he worked at a warehouse loading trucks and subbing as a teacher, then got a job teaching in Hawaii on a remote island. Upon returning, he taught at a private Christian school in Battle Creek, then ended up in Parchment teaching physics and math. He was honored by the Air Zoo this year because of his passion for teaching.
Ken is a commercial loan officer, doing workout duties for Horizon Bank in Kalamazoo. He was president of the Vicksburg Rotary Club in 2007-08 and has been singing, dancing, and acting in the Showboat for many years besides his officiating duties. He has a daughter, Zoe, who plays freshman basketball at Vicksburg High School. Another daughter, Rachel, has graduated from VHS, daughter Jennie is a senior and a son is in 6th grade. His wife Sheri is a Title I teacher in the Vicksburg system.