The Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Tournament isn't just a special event for fans and players, but for the referees as well.
Steve Dreher, a basketball referee from Napa, Calif., with 22 years experience, passed up working a college tournament in West Virginia to referee Gold Medal.
"When you do JC (junior college) Division II and Division I basketball, it's a lot different coming up here," he said. "It lets you see some other things you don't see living in California."
Dreher is one of six referees working this year's tournament. All of the referees in the tournament boast experience at both the college and high school level. Refees George Putman and Joe Thompson also have NCAA Division I experience.
This year's head official, Ron Payne, has more than 30 years of referee experience. Payne said he enjoys working Gold Medal and returned year after year for 20 years.
"As far as I'm concerned this is the highlight of my officiating career," Payne said. "Everyone passed working somewhere else last weekend. Steve ... could have gone to Anchorage and worked the (NCAA) Division II tournament. He could have gone to work the community college finals. (Referee Dale Kuroda) and I could have had an opportunity to work the high school finals in California. People pass to come up here because we like this tournament."
The Juneau Lions Club brings Lower 48 referees in to work the tournament.
Payne said it would be difficult for local people to referee the tournament because they see the players all year.
Payne said he feels the level of basketball at Gold Medal is high and he enjoys the style of play.
"The sportsmanship is usually pretty good," Payne said. "People cheer for their teams, they don't boo the other team. When you get a game between two rivals you don't see that kind of basketball in the Lower 48.
"The style is different," he continued. "There are lots of more (3-point shots) here. It's a faster game. The offenses aren't as complicated. You get people that have lots of ability. (Kake C-Bracket team member) Rudy Bean - there's a person that has lots of ability. There are a lot of people playing in this tournament that are really nice ball players."
Paul Patterson, a referee from Seattle, is officiating his second Gold Medal. He said many referees work the Juneau event because they love the game and it is a way for them to stay in touch.
"The fans love this tournament," Patterson said.
One of the informal tools the referees use during the tournament is commonly referred to as the penalty box. It's a courtesy they extend to the coaches and players by asking the coach to substitute a player out of the game when it appears the player may be nearing a technical foul.
The practice helps limit the number of technicals called and helps keeps players in the game.
"We like to keep players on the floor," Payne said. "The most important thing for us is to officiate the game, that's what this is all about. It's not about us. It's about the people on the floor and the camaraderie that happens this week."
The referees all share in the camaraderie during the tournament and said they agree coming to Juneau each spring is a special time.
"It doesn't matter what other big games I've worked," Payne said. "This is the mecca of basketball right here."
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