Eugene Kelly gained plenty of enjoyment during years spent watching his three children play basketball on the youth, high school and college levels.
Between coaching youth games and watching his kids play hundreds of games requiring thousands of miles of travel as they grew older, Kelly was constantly on the go, and enjoying practically every moment of it.
But when youngest daughter Brielle graduated from Mansfield University in Pennsylvania in 2018 after a stellar playing career that included four years at West Morris Central, he was faced a stark realization - the games were over, leaving a major void in his routine.
That’s when Kelly made an interesting decision. Even though he never done it before during his decades around the game, going back to his own playing days at Our Lady of the Valley in Orange, he decided to become a basketball official.
Making the decision especially unusual was how while always a familiar presence sitting in the front row of the bleachers while watching each of his kids play, joining the ranks of the men and women who stood just a few feet away had never really crossed his mind.
Still, he enrolled in an officiating class, passed the test and has been working NJSIAA contests since. And in doing so, he’s had a great time with his new way of keeping involved with the sport he loves so much.
“I just enjoy the game and wanted to still be a part of It,” he said. “I had never done it before, but someone mentioned it to me and gave me a number. I called it and took the class.”
In addition to Brielle’s games at Mansfield - he and his wife, Louise, would travel to every game - three hours to home contests and often longer to away matchups - the Kelly’s were also frequent travelers when oldest daughter Tara played for Fairleigh Dickinson, where she graduated in 2011.
“I thought, after Brielle, what was I going to do?” he said. “So I got involved, and I do it for the fun of it.”
His family, which also includes middle child Eugene, who is also getting involved in officiating, is a tight group, and they were fully behind the decision.
“We were a little surprised,” said Tara, who is now the head girls volleyball and girls basketball coach at Hanover Park. “But we were all supportive, and thought it would be great for him to still stay involved in the game.“
In her own role as a 6-3 center at West Morris who became involved in high school coaching immediately after her graduation from FDU, Tara Kelly has seen first-hand how the number of officials has been in a steady decline, which makes her proud of her dad for stepping up.
“It’s not easy for any former parent, especially of all post players, to transition from fan to referee,” she said. “He has a new perspective on the game and we are all proud of him.”
Her father said the transition from front-row sitting parent to on-court official wasn’t that hard.
“I had never thought of becoming a ref, but I had also had good relationships with them,” he said. “I think everyone is doing it for the right reasons. It was an easy transition for me. I have a very thick skin. I dealt with coaches, and I know what it feels like as a parent. I know what they feel and what they are thinking, so I can handle any criticism.”
He also offers some advice for anyone thinking of becoming an official.
“If you enjoy the game of basketball, and you like running and you can handle getting yelled at, you can have fun being a ref,” he said. “The yelling happens. A lot of people don’t know all the rules, and they only see the game through their own kids. But if you can handle that and understand it, it’s very enjoyable. I do it for the fun, but for young people or even older ones, it’s also a good way to make some money. I also do some work helping out reffing games with younger kids, and that’s also a lot of fun because you see the little kids and the parents, and see how it was and how you felt when your own kids were young. For me, officiating is just a lot fun.”
Think you might be interested in becoming a high school sports official? Click the link belo and get involved!