HONG KONG versus Iraq might not have stood out in the grand scheme of things, but it was the finale to Barry Spicer’s impressive international wheelchair basketball refereeing career.
Spanning 17 years – from his first steps at the international level at the Roosevelt Cup in 1999 all the way through to earlier this month in Beijing– the international wheelchair game has treated Spicer exceptionally well.
But the 2017 IWBF Asia Oceania Championships for Men and Women proved the right time to farewell the international game and hang up the whistle.
“I thought about it for a long time – before the tournament – and I’m happy with the decision I made because I’ve been doing it for 17 years,” Spicer said. “I got my international licence in 2000 at the Roosevelt cup in Atlanta, Georgia, and now I’m more involved in developing referees in Victoria.
“I’ve done a lot of clinics in Victoria to bring on some of our developing referees and I’ve had a lot of work to do with some of our best as they refereed their first national league games in the last 12 months which I’m pretty proud of.”
It all started on a whim for Spicer – picking up the phone and answering an urgent call for wheelchair basketball referees… even one with no experience.
This was in 1992 – long before FIBA guidelines or the internet was around to give referees a good grounding in wheelchair basketball officiating.
But Spicer took to the format with aplomb and relished the opportunities to officiate basketball of any variety.
“I started in 1992 and I’d known Sharon Arnold for a number of years as she’d refereed games I’d played,” Spicer said. “I became a referee as I hated referees and thought I could do a better job than the ones that were running around… and my career has probably shown that I could.
“Sharon was reffing a local wheelchair basketball competition, the local competition was held in Preston, that was short a referee one night.
“She said come down and have a run and I said ‘I don’t know the first thing about wheelchair basketball’ and she said ‘that’s alright – I’ll call the fouls, you call the out of courts.’
“I was already refereeing SEABL at the time, and was refereeing a reasonable standard of able bodied basketball.
“What impressed me was the players’ attitude to basketball – it was really good and their attitude to referees was even better.
“I’d only experienced players and coaches that continually rode the referees and gave them a hard time, so the people down there that were down at the game were rapt to have someone who could make a decent call.
“That got me interested at the start and I sort of picked up the rules and in those days there wasn’t really a rulebook like we have now with FIBA.”
It moved rapidly from there as Spicer found international tournaments open up to him including his refereeing highlight – the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
“The Paralympic Games follow on from the ‘warm-up tournament’… the Olympic Games… and we move into the same venues and facilities as the Olympic Games,” Spicer said. “It was a real buzz in the Olympic Village and the Olympic venues. Obviously refereeing the best teams in the world – which come around every four years – made it special.
“Athens was pretty much the peak of my career – like any other athlete or official you’d like to get higher or longer, it was the only Paralympics I was lucky enough to go to but I had some fantastic tournaments and invitations to overseas tournaments since then as well.
“There would be a lot of referees who would gladly change their careers for mine and I’d do the same for others above me.”
The standard he reached was impressive, but Spicer’s desire to always push himself left him wondering what if in a few instances.
But he went as far as his talents could take him and does not regret a second of what he’s achieved.
“Domestic competition I picked it up pretty well – a lot of experienced people from interstate were happy to share their knowledge to get referees involved as well – and that was good,” Spicer said. “With wheelchair basketball to the peak of the referee pyramid – for lack of a better word- is a lot closer than able bods.
“To get to FIBA level in able bodies is a long journey and really hard work, which I never quite managed to grab.
“I was a national badge for 20 years but never quite got to that level. I had a fantastic able bodied career and was rapt with what I had, but it was a lot closer and easier to get it than FIBA.
He wanted to encourage all referees to give wheelchair basketball a go – as the opportunities in the format are incredible, especially as the game continues to grow in Victoria year-on-year.
“I don’t really recall the transition – I could go and referee a wheelchair game tonight and go and do an able-bodied game with no problem whatsoever,” Spicer said. “I tell some people I don’t even see the chairs… I just referee the game.
“There are some rules in basketball that vary from association to association, which you adapt to pretty easily and the wheelchair rules are different in many ways, but since I’ve been doing it since 1992 it doesn’t register.
“That’s the game I’m doing and those are the rules I’m adhering to.
“Don’t be afraid of the fact that they’re in wheelchairs and the same thing as the able-bodied referees – make sure you referee the defence.
“Wheelchair basketball has a similar amount of contact as able-bodied basketball, there’s a hell of a lot of contact that’s not a foul.
“Wheelchair basketball is similar, but you hear it because it’s metal-on-metal with the hitting of the chairs.
“Don’t let the sound influence whether it’s a foul or not as quite often it’s just not. Same as able-bodied – body-on-body and boxing out.
“They box out just the same and they move and try to make legal defensive position the same way.”
Spicer has started running wheelchair basketball refereeing clinics across Victoria as he hopes to see the next generation take up officiating in that format.
“I’ve run clinics from Albury, to Geelong, to Gippsland,” Spicer said. “There hasn’t been a huge interest but there aren’t a huge amount of games.
“We’ve had varying interest from 14 people down to about six and all sort of numbers in between.
“But because in Victoria, the really good thing Basketball Victoria has done with the inclusion program, we’re getting wheelchair basketball all around the place and there will be an increased interest in refereeing it.
“I’m happy to go around and pass on that knowledge to the people who are interested and the cream will rise to the top.”
While wheelchair basketball was his pride and joy, Spicer notched an exceptional career in able-bodied basketball as well – with a SEABL refereeing career spanning 22 years and over 300 matches.
It just goes to show there’s always another horizon to look towards when it comes to your basketball. No matter the standard, no matter the style, Spicer just wants to see the referees go after their best to ensure officiating stays top-notch.