Longtime hoops officials recognized for service

Referees say volunteerism is about devotion to kids, basketball

Posted 3/4/19

Brian Grams spent his Saturday morning on Feb. 23 the way he's spent countless others over the past decade — running from one end of a basketball court to the other while keeping a watchful eye on …

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Longtime hoops officials recognized for service

Referees say volunteerism is about devotion to kids, basketball

Posted

Brian Grams spent his Saturday morning on Feb. 23 the way he's spent countless others over the past decade — running from one end of a basketball court to the other while keeping a watchful eye on young athletes, whistle in hand, ready to call their game.

Lined on one courtside were friends and family of players in the Castle Rock Recreation Center's first- through eighth-grade basketball league. Cheering and clapping, they watched girls in the fourth-grade age bracket wrap up their season.

On the other side, also sprinting from one end of the court to the other, was Grams' 18-year-old son, Joseph. The two sported black-and-white referee outfits as they officiated the game together, explaining to players why they made certain calls and what they should do differently.

“The teaching happens after the whistle blows,” Grams said.

Grams has been refereeing or coaching in the league since Joseph started playing in the second grade, about 10 years ago. He's not the only official with a long track record volunteering for the recreation center.

There's also Greg Kvachkoff, who's officiated in the league for about 13 years, and Bill Epping, who's been at it so long he can't remember the exact tally but thinks it's somewhere between 15 and 20 years. They too got involved when their children played in the league but stayed on after their last aged out. Epping was doing it back when Kvachkoff's daughter, now 24, still played on a team Kvachkoff coached.

“Bill reffed my games,” Kvachkoff recalled, joking he was still mad over losing a championship title in a game Epping oversaw.

The recreation center's athletic supervisor, Scott Smeeton, said they have 35 officials on staff in the league, but all are paid employees except for Grams, Kvachkoff and Epping, who've volunteered year-over-year.

Another official has volunteered for several years but stepped away for the last two. It's rare, Smeeton said, to find people who volunteer for the official positions for that long, partially because of how basketball differs from other sports.

“It's inside, it's very loud and spectators are right there on top of you, and coaches are too,” Smeeton said. “All three of those individuals know how to deal with it.”

Grams, Kvachkoff and Epping are respected officials “because they've been around so long,” Smeeton said. They deal with the good and bad in refereeing without getting paid and manage it on top of already busy schedules. All three work full-time outside of the league.

Grams is an associate pastor at Ridgeline Community Church. Kvachkoff travels the county during weekdays as the national vending manager for Campofrio Food Group. Epping is a financial adviser full-time and also head coach of Valor Christian High School's boys and girls tennis teams.

The three men all said their approach to officiating games is rooted in a desire to teach the players, to help them develop as athletes and in their general love of working with young people.

“I love the game and I love the kids. They're absolutely a blast, and it's such a treat to watch them grow up,” Kvachkoff said.

As a Douglas County High School alumni, Kvachkoff aims to prepare the league's players for high school athletics and hopes to see the town's two high schools bring home state championships in future years. Epping said the game teaches kids skills on and off the court — responsibility, teamwork, perseverance and maturity — and he likes seeing players grow.

“Anytime one of the kids has a game-winning shot, or maybe it's a kid that hasn't scored a basket in a couple years,” Epping said, “to see the kids obviously smile and enjoy those moments, I mean that's what's fun for all the officials.”

Matt Rogers, who coached one team in the Feb. 23 game Brian and Joseph refereed, has coached for 25 years in total and one year with the recreation center. He said the Gramses do more than officiate a game.

“They're good. They do a good job. What's nice especially is they do a good job of teaching,” he said. “They really care about the kids and they come here to make them better.”

Joseph had arrived before this father that morning, at about 7:30 a.m., scheduled as the official of four games. He doesn't mind the early weekend mornings, which he gets to spend with his dad.

“It's a bonding experience, really,” he said. “We kind of learn from each other.”

Brian said it's good to see kids pick up life skills through the league, and good seeing his own kids learn to give back by participating. He, Kvachkoff and Epping plan to serve as officials for as long as the league will have them.

“All of them came to me at one point to say, 'We want to help out,'” Smeeton said. “Once they got going, they just came forward every year.”

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