Jason Frantz and Chris Cooksey walked onto the Big House hardwood, just like their fathers before them.
They had worked hard and dreamed long to make the state basketball tournament at State Fair Arena.
Cooksey got emotional during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “You know you're about to go,” he said. “The nerves are flowing.”
Frantz got a little choked up during the traditional playing of “Oklahoma!” All the times Frantz saw his dad clapping along. Now he was standing in the same spot, clapping to the same Oklahoma anthem.
And then Cooksey and Frantz pulled out their whistles and blew the game into action.
Those striped shirts that everybody screams at? Those guys bombarded with “You're terrible!” and “Ref, you suck!”? They want to make the state tournament as badly as do players and coaches.
Frantz and Cooksey made their Big House debuts Friday morning, calling the Big Pasture-Arnett Class B semifinal. And had the time of their lives.
“It was a blast,” Cooksey said.
Cooksey grew up in Lawton and lives there still. Frantz grew up in the Panhandle; he lives in Balko. Both came to the state tournament as kids, as John Cooksey and Steve Frantz called state tournament games. John Cooksey, for example, called the 1991 first-round showdown matching Ryan Minor and Hammon against Bryant Reeves and Gans.
“I thought they did good,” said John Cooksey, who after the game stopped by the officials' dressing room to congratulate his son. “Kind of hard to describe, having officiated for 25 years, to see your kids do that, it's a blessing. Not very many get to come here. To know you're one of the best at what you do …”
Making the state tournament isn't easy. Mike Whaley, who oversees officiating for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, has 19 observers statewide. First semester, they talent hunt, trying to spot good officials. Second semester, Whaley sends his observers to specific games to critique.
Coaches send in a list of 15 officials they recommend. Officials send in their schedule availability and schools they would like to avoid, because of potential conflicts of interest.
Whaley takes all that information and produces playoff assignments. He's proud of his referees. Whaley gives this example of their commitment. When the recent snowstorms wreaked havoc on the tournament schedule, Whaley had to adjust on the fly. There were 560 high school basketball games and 1,280 officiating assignments last week. A bunch of them had to be changed into early this week, and Whaley said only a couple of refs had to back out.
And they don't do it for the money. Refs make $50 a game in the district tournament, $55 in the regional, $60 in the area tournament and $65 in the state tournament.
“We have a great bunch of folks that take the abuse they take,” Whaley said.
Frantz and Cooksey are glad to be in the fraternity.
“There's not too many that like us,” Cooksey said with a smile. “We gotta stick together.”
In high school, the abuse comes mostly from the stands. In the NBA, it's players. In college, coaches. But on the high school level, the ref-coach relationship seems solid.
Oh, the coaches moan and complain. Big Pasture coach Nick Gable got on Cooksey for an intentional foul call in the first half, but at halftime, Gable told Cooksey it was the proper decision. “I appreciated that,” Cooksey said.
The game turned into a rout — Arnett won 72-52 — and the whistles ended up meaning little.
So when a Big Pasture fan who knew of the Cooksey legacy derisively yelled out, “Hey, make the right call; make your dad proud,” Cooksey smiled. His dad was proud.
And before tipoff, when “Oklahoma!” was finished ringing through the rafters of the grand old coliseum, and P.A. announcer Steve Daniels welcomed the teams to Semifinal Friday by saying, “Congratulations, you made it to the Big House,” Frantz smiled, too.
“You know what,” he thought to himself. “I did.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.