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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steve Christilaw: Richland High’s Cartmell wore referee stripes with distinction

I’ve been told that vertical stripes make you look slimmer.

I’ve also been told that it’s just an optical illusion, and as someone who is always thinking about how to BE slimmer, I don’t need to delude myself any more than I already do.

Besides, pinstripes are a New York Yankees thing, and that association makes them a fashion faux pas.

Wider stripes have a whole other connotation that isn’t flattering: It either makes you look like an inmate or a referee.

That’s not to say that looking like a referee is a bad thing. On the right person, they are actually flattering. And on the vast majority of men and women who go to work wearing a whistle, that is exactly the case.

Oh, sure, I disagree with some of the decisions they make. I’m sure they disagree with some of the verbs and adjectives I use. That just goes with the job.

I spent years ribbing a Snohomish County girls basketball referee back when I worked on that side of the state.

There is a basketball move they teach you when you first take up the game called a jump stop. While dribbling the basketball, you stop by planting both feet at the same time – a move that makes either foot a pivot foot. A player can then cross over, either to the left or to the right. It’s how they used to teach us to shoot a layup.

This guy missed that day, because he never saw the Basketball 101 move without calling it a travel. Every time. After a while, he would call it and then look at me and grin.

The rest of his game was OK, and there was never any question about his intention to call a solid game of basketball. He just had an obvious glitch in his refereeing matrix.

Dick Cartmell was always one of those guys who made getting it right his highest priority. If his matrix ever had a flaw in it, he fixed it.

And after 35 years, 24 NCAA tournaments, five Final Four appearances and three championship games, Cartmell is retiring.

Cartmell graduated from Richland High in 1973, and after college he went to work in the Tri-Cities as a high school referee. In 1984 he moved up to work the Big Sky Conference. For several decades he’s worked a lot of Pac-12 games and is a regular in all of the conferences on the West coast.

I remember him from games he worked at Eastern Washington, and I liked that he would work games and remain relatively anonymous. He always seemed to take the approach that he was there to serve the game and not take it over.

I am sad to see him take his leave. We need more people with his approach and his integrity to step forward and take up a whistle.

Many more.

That’s always been the case. Like the Army, officiating organizations are always looking for a few good men and women. No matter the sport.

New Jersey is looking for a new high school wrestling referee.

And it’s about time.

The one in question, and I won’t use his name because he doesn’t deserve the mention, caused a nationwide stir by forcing a high school junior to either cut his hair or forfeit a varsity match.

Here is what we know.

Andrew Johnson is a junior wrestling at 120 pounds for Buena High School. He had wrestled a match previously while wearing a hair cap over his hair, which he wears in dreads. Short dreads, at that. We’re not talking a Richard Sherman hairstyle, here, folks.

The referee in question didn’t show up for the match on time and missed the weigh-in, where issues like a need for a hair cap are addressed.

The referee, who is white, previously volunteered to go through sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program after he was accused of using a racially derogatory word toward a fellow official, according to the Cherry Hill (N.J.) Courier-Post.

When Johnson came out for his match, the referee told him the hair cap was not sufficient and that he would need to cut his hair or forfeit the match. That’s the critical point in this process.

He was told a hair cap wasn’t sufficient. That’s where the ref crossed the line.

When his coaches protested, the ref started an injury time clock.

To his credit, Johnson opted for a humiliating, impromptu haircut from a team trainer with a pair of scissors normally used to cut athletic tape. A video of the haircut has gone viral.

He then went out and won the match in overtime with a takedown.

The aftermath has been interesting. The ref has been blasted by an Olympic wrestler and a long list of public officials. The school district has announced that he will no longer officiate matches at their schools, and the school will not compete in events where he officiates, and the whole situation is under review and the ref will not be assigned future matches until it is resolved.

Personally, I think there is a list of people who let Andrew Johnson down at this match.

There are rules that must be followed, yes. I know any number of instances where a wrestler has been ordered to cut his hair before being allowed to wrestle. But not like this.

The rule set by the National Federation of State High School Associations states that if a wrestler’s hair, in its natural state, extends below the earlobe on the sides or touches the top of a normal shirt, it is required to be secured in a legal hair cover.

But there are also procedures that must be followed as well. Humiliating a kid before a match is not one of them.

What’s more, he was humiliated by an official who couldn’t be bothered to show up on time.

There was a match on the line here, I know, but I can’t help but think that there are some things more important than a win or loss. I like to think most of the wrestling coaches I know, in a situation like this, would have stood with their wrestler. Perhaps they would have, but this young man stepped up in a very bad situation and, quite literally, took one for the team.

We like to say that sports don’t build character, they reveal it.

That’s true here. On both sides.