LAFAYETTE — Meet Kevin Montz, a 34-year-old proprietor of a distributing company that ships Little Debbie snacks around the area.
He’s also the son of a referee, and those were the footsteps he chose to follow.
“I’ve been doing (officiating) since I left high school,” he said. “I did baseball and basketball when I graduated in 1998. I’ve been doing basketball for 16 years now.”
Meet Dennis Savoy Sr., a 52-year-old retired Army sergeant who spent 25 years on active duty and another two in the national guard before retiring in 2011.
He, like so many sportswriters, wanted to stay near the game he loved but was never good enough to play. He started his referee career in 1994 while stationed at Ft. Hood.
“I transferred in 1996 to Lafayette and have been refereeing since and loved it,” he said. “I’m always in my case book analyzing situations. You never know what’s going to occur on the court.”
Meet Garrett Theriot, a 39-year-old St. Martinville resident who actually was good enough to play, spending four years on the South Alabama basketball team.
He used to “give the referees hell.” Now, after more than a decade on the job, he understands how difficult it can be.
“You can’t visualize what they’re looking at until you get in their shoes,” he said.
Meet them together, this herd of zebras.
They are a few of the men who officiate Acadiana-area high school basketball games. Friday night’s assignment had them at Comeaux for a District 3-5A matchup between the host Spartans and Sulphur.
They are responsible for both the varsity and the junior-varsity games. The JV tips off at 6 p.m., so they arrive at 5:30, get dressed in their striped attire and go through a short pregame routine to make sure they’re on the same page.
The game looks different when watching it from a referee’s perspective. They work in a triangle — one man posted on the baseline, the other two taking up spots on the sidelines — and nobody watches the ball.
They are each responsible for an interlocking sector of the court. They shift their gaze over a specific patch of hardwood, looking for fouls or rule violations and making sure the game is played the right way.
They get through the JV game without incident. No arguments and barely a peep from the crowd of 80 or so people. After the game, they head back to the locker room for a sort of after-action report.
It’s clear each takes his job seriously. High school officiating crews aren’t permanently teamed together, but this group has worked with one another before. They go over specific calls and situations in a cramped locker room over the rattle of a window A/C unit and the muffled sounds of the Comeaux band.
All three have officiated a game involving both teams already this year, so they know some things to look out for. They know Sulphur has a 6-foot-8 player named LaColby Tucker.
“That big kid from Sulphur? He’s huge,” Montz said at halftime. “If he grabs a rebound over someone, as long as he goes straight up, that’s not a foul — that’s his advantage.”
That scenario would prove to be the only time either coach argued with the referees during the varsity game. Comeaux coach Jeremy Whittington argued that Tucker should’ve been hit with an over-the-back foul, and Savoy explained why that wouldn’t be happening.
It was an otherwise nondescript night for the crew, which is exactly how they like it. The Sulphur coach didn’t say a peep — though everybody from the crew agreed after the game that that wasn’t the first time that has happened — and there was barely any uproar or anguish from the fans.
It’s not always like that, but that is always the goal. Keep the game flowing; don’t make any more impact than necessary.
“Nobody comes to see us,” Theriot said. “If we don’t get noticed, that means we did a good job.”
The game’s over, Comeaux wins 66-52 and the group makes a quick exit back to the locker room. Daniel Gautreaux, who assigns the referees for all area high school basketball games, meets them there with two-and-a-half pages of critiques in his notebook.
“The thing about it is, high school officials don’t work in crews,” Gautreaux said. “They showed a great level of consistency in the fouls they called and the fouls they passed on. That allowed the game to flow smoothly.”
Gautreaux, who spends his fall Saturdays officiating Conference USA football games, has almost nothing but positive reviews for the crew, but he also offers a few pointers, even going as far as judging the pop of their signals and what collegiate officiating associations will be looking for.
Montz and Theriot are trying to advance through the officiating ranks. Montz already officiates college games in the Gulf Coast and Southern States Athletic conferences. Theriot thinks he will break through this year.
“That’s a challenge. You’re always trying to move up and get better,” Montz said.
But it’s also not the only reason why they’re spending their Friday night at Comeaux.
Savoy thinks of it as a sort of civic duty. Montz thinks it’s a fun way to stay involved in the game.
They’re also in it to do right for the kids, because someone was there to do it for them.
“If you don’t have a passion for this, then you wouldn’t do a good job,” Theriot said. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love it. The pay ain’t great — trust me.”