He’s a student of refereeing – and backs Ontario refs

ONTARIO—For the last couple of years, an Ontario High School student has had referees’ backs in Malheur County after developing an enduring friendship with a local basketball ref. 

It started in 2019, the inaugural year of the Support the Court game, a yearly basketball contest that brings together differently-abled students from Vale, Ontario and Nyssa. For most students, this was the first opportunity to participate in an organized sporting event.  

Carson Hartley, a developmentally-delayed student, had no interest in playing. But he wanted to referee the contest. Julie Hartley, Carson’s mother, said he always has been fascinated with officiating basketball. 

Hartley said the organizers needed a ref to work with Carson. Enter Eric Evans, a longtime high school basketball ref slated to officiate the first Support the Game and Malheur County planning director and Ontario School Board member. When Evans caught wind of Carson’s interest in calling the game, he handed Carson a game whistle to ensure he was “properly equipped” ahead of tipoff.

 “That’s where it all started,” Hartley said. Organizers revived the annual event last year after a two-year hiatus due to Covid. This year’s version of the game is set for Tuesday, March 21, at Nyssa High School with tipoff at 6 p.m. With two sisters who play high school basketball, Carson is at many of the games Evans referees. With his striped referee shirt and whistle, Carson always finds the closest seat to the court, Hartley said. Before and after the game and even during timeouts, Hartley said Evans always takes the time to talk to him. 

“There’s just been a good relationship that’s developed (between them), Hartley said. 

Hartley said often, people are unsure of how to interact with kids with challenges.  She said her son was  born four months early and though he is 19, Carson functions at a fifth-grade level. 

Evans, she said, has always engaged with Carson.

“He doesn’t have to take the time, but he does,” she said. 

Evans said it is important to him to give back to the community and that kids with developmental delays get have as many opportunities as others whenever possible. 

With the state and a nationwide shortage of refs primarily because of a rise in abuse toward refs makes the relationship between Evans and Carson all the more heartening, Hartley said. 

Jack Folliard, executive director of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association, said while Oregon has not seen a physical assault on a referee, they are occurring in other parts of the country once a month. 

Hartley said Carson does not put up with any heckling directed at the refs. 

“Carson cheers on the refs and gets defensive when people start heckling,” she said. (Carson) tells them to cut it out and be nice.” 

Throwing a heckling fan out of the game, or “teeing somebody up” is the funnest part of the game and has become something of a halftime show at the Support the Court games. 

They go something like this. 

Before the game, the organizers choose a spectator from the crowd to play the role of the obnoxious heckler. When the spectator acts up, Carson ejects them from the game, calling a technical foul. 

Evans and his uncle came up with the idea the first year as a funny bit to entertain the fans. Since then, it has become part of the game. Hartley said during that first game,  this gave Carson the opportunity to call the technical foul, blow his whistle and throw Evans’ uncle out of the game. 

“That’s the funnest part of the game now,” Hartley said. She said Carson thinks it is “super cool” to call the technical foul and eject someone.. 

The “super cool” aspect for Hartley though is seeing her son cultivate a genuine friendship with someone like Evans. 

“(Developmentally-delayed kids),” Hartley said, “don’t get a lot of opportunities to form these kinds of relationships.”

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