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Carlson's To Make History On Idaho Center Floor
The father-son duo of Doug and Ben Carlson will become the first such duo to officiate a state basketball championship in Idaho history.
Published: 3/3/2018 12:47:40 AM
Follow Lucas Gebhart on Twitter: @IdahoSportsLG

The following feature profile was written by Lucas Gebhart, an broadcaster and the current editor-in-chief of "The Bengal", a student newspaper at Idaho State University.

Most of the time, the jeers, name calling and threats end when the officials leave the floor, but this time was different. 

One disgruntled father from the losing team, who Gary Carlson, one of District V’s top officials, wished not to disclose, waited for him to finish taking his shower and followed him to the parking lot.  

“I was the only one out there,” Carlson said. “He cornered me and threatened that he was going to do physical harm to me. I talked to him for about five to 10 minutes and talked him out of swinging at me.”

As the game crossed into the final minute, Carlson awarded two free throws that essentially decided who would play for a state title the following night at the Ford Idaho Center. Verbalized frustration and finger pointing with some zest behind it escorted Carlson and his partner off the floor. 

High school officiating is tough and it’s in the midst of a crisis that has plagued the industry for decades. As youth sports grow, the number of officials willing to put up with parents and coaches shrinks. Every official who has been calling games for long enough has a story that starts with “one time a coach…” or “this one time an angry father…” Rarely does the story end with violence, handcuffs and squad cars, but sometimes it gets close. 

Both Gary and his brother, Doug Carlson, have been officiating high school basketball in Idaho since the early 1970s. The brothers started officiating high school sports part-time while working 40-plus years in Pocatello’s railyard for Union Pacific. Both retired from the railroad shortly after the 2008 recession which saw unemployment in the Gate City skyrocket to nearly 9 percent in 2009. 

Since retiring, Doug and his wife have been able to continue their goal of visiting every LDS Temple in the country while playing a round play golf in each of the cities. They have seen all but three, the new one in Cedar City, which was dedicated in December of 2017 and the two in Hawaii.

Today, Idaho’s fifth district is littered with Carlsons and the rough and rugged lifestyle of the railroad, which includes long shifts and working in Pocatello’s many brutally perplexing clients, has mirrored District V’s reputation of being a “rough district.” 

“The sixth district is known for calling three seconds,” Doug countered. “We let them play and decide the game and maybe other places let them decide it too much. In other words, throwing the ball up and letting it fall.” 

Eventually, the two each fathered a son, Ben and Brian, who also quickly climbed the District V officiating ladder and before long it was not uncommon to see a Carlson father-son duo officiate games together. But one morning last March, Gary arrived at his son’s front doorstep so the two could umpire together only to find his son dead inside his home. He died of a heart attack the night before.  

“That was hard,” Gary said. “We got through it though.” 

On Saturday, 11 months after Brian’s death, the Carlsons will make history. When Doug and his son, Ben, take the floor to call the 1A Division-II state championship game at the Ford Idaho Center, it will be the first time that a father-son duo will officiate a state basketball championship together in Idaho history. 

“This will be one of the highlights that I remember is working with my son in one of the finals,” Doug said. 

It’s rare for any official to call games for as long as the Carlsons have. David Led, Commissioner of District III, said that he gets about 40 new officials every year, but is only able to keep 10 percent of those officials for a second season. 

“We came very close to telling schools, ‘I don’t have officials tonight,”’ he said. “We did not have it the last two years, but there were times where I had to say, ‘We just can’t get officials to your games.’”

Led has about 180 officials at his disposal. Those officials serve roughly 57 schools across the Treasure Valley. Most officials get assigned three or four games per-week, meaning that in the regular-season alone a high school ref in Idaho will get about 64 games per-season, but that’s just high school. Led estimates that about 10 percent of his 180 officials also officiate college games, while the Carlson brothers each officiate one or two men’s league games per week in addition to high school. 

Most high schools only play around 20 regular-season games per-year which averages out to be about a game and a half per-week. 

Both Led and the Carlsons say that communication is one of the most important tools officials gain over the years and that finding way to ease the tension is a must. 

“They’re yelling at the shirt, not the official,” Gary said. “That’s something that you have to learn and that’s the nature of officiating.” 

During a boys district game last week, Doug’s partner called a two-shot flagrant on what he perceived to be an intentional foul. The ball squired away from the player and into the hands of a coach, who picked up the ball and fired it back to Doug’s partner. Doug immediately issued a technical foul, but his joke eased the tension. 

“He said, ‘Hey, Doug, I was just throwing to your partner,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I know, but he didn’t call for a fastball, he wanted a curve.’”

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