August 02, 2017
While the game of basketball was invented at a YMCA training school in Massachusetts, the Y’s basketball officiating program was first developed at the former Sears YMCA on the West Side of Chicago. Mike Peace was one of just three teenagers who showed up at the Y on the program’s first day of training. Now in his early 40s, Mike is the program’s long-time instructor at the Kelly Hall YMCA in East Humboldt Park, which serves 60 teens over the course of a year.
Kimberly George, the Program Director at the Sears Y back then, saw an opportunity for youth to have something to fall back on for some extra cash after they graduated from high school. “It helped them to legitimately earn an income,” she says. “It helped them see that there were other careers in basketball than just being players.”
Sports is an integral part of the YMCA's overall character development mission. The Sears Y’s West Side Games were a summer-long olympics that included teams from the Austin and Duncan YMCAs, as well as other organizations across the city. They needed good basketball officials, as did the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s year-round city and suburban Biddy and traveling leagues. Kimberly worked with After School Matters, the nonprofit organization for youth that Maggie Daley founded, to create an apprenticeship program to set teens on a path to becoming basketball officials licensed by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).
When Mike first became an instructor, he recalls people who thought the kids in his program were more likely to end up in jail than on the basketball court. “It didn’t work out like that,” he says. “They learned a great deal of discipline, how to present themselves in a neutral manner during games, and they had to develop a strong sense of self-control and focus,” says Kimberly. “They grew up to become good men, good fathers, and important members of the community,” Mike concludes.
Individuals as young as 17 can apply for an official’s license from IHSA. Youth in the Y’s officiating program learn IHSA basketball rules and regulations as well as the responsibilities of a referee, what signals to use, the procedures to follow for fouls and penalties, and how to set up the scorer and timekeeper’s table.
“There are a number of people like Mike who still officiate games to this day,” Kimberly reports. One graduate referees grammar school games for Chicago Public Schools, Mike notes, another for a recreation department in Oklahoma. Other graduates are still involved in basketball, like Terrell Dean and Chantel Jones. Terrell started Camp Mind over Matter, a basketball training program on the West Side, and Chantel became the varsity basketball coach at DRW College Prep in North Lawndale.
In fulfilling its mission, the YMCA encourages individuals to share different points of view through the lens of working cooperatively. During basketball games, not everyone sees the same thing the same way. The officiating program gives teens opportunities to see the points of view of the player, the coach, and the referee and to learn the importance of working together as a basketball team.
Randiss Hopkins started going to the North Lawndale Y when he was in the fourth grade, and he participated in its programs every summer, fall, and spring until he started high school. Mike was his coach. “I loved how they would announce the starting line-ups,” Randiss recalls, “and we would run out to the Chicago Bulls theme song. They had Gatorade jugs for us. As young kids, that meant everything to us.”