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High school basketball: Officials make all the difference at tournament of schools for the deaf

At the Great Plains Schools for the Deaf Basketball Tournament, the tournament officials are deaf. For players and coaches who sometimes struggle to communicate with referees, that makes a big difference.
by Ryan Aber Published: February 9, 2013

He's worked in the SEC, Big 12 and Southern conferences and several NCAA Tournaments.

“When I was 12 years old, going to the North Carolina School for the Deaf, I was watching the team play and I was so fascinated by the referees. So I gave it a try. I called several games as an eighth grader and then when I was on the JV.”

Kirk eventually found a mentor, a veteran NCAA and NBA official who took him under his wing and started teaching Kirk the ins and outs of the job.

He eventually told Kirk he had the potential to call college games.

“The nervousness thinking of all of that was overwhelming,” Kirk said.

Kirk called LSU games when Shaquille O'Neal played for the Tigers and once T'd up Rick Pitino when he was coaching Kentucky.

Pitino didn't know Kirk was deaf.

“When the other refs told him that, he looked over and his lip started quivering a bit and he sheepishly went and sat down on the bench,” Kirk said.

He's having just as much fun this week calling the high school games at OSD.

“It's so inspiring for me,” Kirk said. “It's such a joy to call these games. This is one of the greatest times in my life calling this tournament.”

Phillip Smith Jr. is on the other end of the spectrum.

He's in his third year of officiating in the East Bay Basketball Officials Association in Oakland, Calif.

Smith became involved in officiating after watching his godson's basketball game and thinking he could do a better job than the officials on the court.

“His team was winning by a lot but there was some teasing going on out there and I didn't think that was right that they let that go on,” Smith said.

Smith would like to reach the same level as Kirk.

“My dream would be to become an NCAA ref, especially in the Pac-12,” Smith said. “If I did that, I'd be the first deaf official there.”

by Ryan Aber
OU Athletics Reporter
Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The...
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