“To referee you need to have a calmness,” says Gerald Boudreaux. He should know. After 28 years “on the floor” as a Division 1 basketball referee and seven more as supervisor of SEC basketball officials, five Final Four appearances and four NCAA national championship games, Boudreaux knows what it takes.
Maybe Boudreaux learned composure from raising three daughters with his wife, Carlos, or by serving four mayors as director of Lafayette’s Parks and Recreation Department. The walls of his Girard Park office display not only sports accolades, including the 2000 Naismith College Basketball Referee of the Year award, but pictures of his family and appreciations for his many civic activities from the Miles Perret Cancer Care to the United Way of Acadiana.
Clearly, Boudreaux is not the type to be overly affected by what a coach might be screaming. To the contrary, he considered refereeing as time spent “getting away from the regular work environment.”
In the beginning refereeing wasn’t an opportunity to get way but simply a chance to get to play. “My coach at Northside, Roosevelt Hill, had some rules. You had to wear a coat and tie to games, and every junior and senior had to pass the high school referee test. You didn’t follow the rules you didn’t play,” says Boudreaux. “Not only that but after we passed the test we had to officiate youth games Saturday mornings starting at 8 a.m. When we finished all the games we practiced. Pretty tough after a game the night before.”
As a freshman at UL Lafayette, Boudreaux started officiating high school games. “I already knew all the rules,” he says, recalling a district playoff game between Crowley and Rayne at Northside. “It had to be at a neutral court. At 4 p.m. the gym was full for a 7 p.m. tipoff. Crowley had the Twin Towers, Greg Lazard and Jerome Batiste, and was coached by (ex-LSU and current Arkansas State coach) John Brady. He was just out of college and worse then.”
With encouragement from one of his professors, Al Simon, Boudreaux started refereeing Southland and Trans America games in Nagodoches, Thibodaux and Shreveport.
At 24 Boudreaux started his SEC career.
Most local basketball fans saw Boudreaux only on television. He avoided local games. “Louisiana is a small state, and I didn’t want the extra attention being from the area meant,” he says.
That promise to himself was tested by the ultimate tester, Dale Brown. “He had been asking the SEC office to assign me to games in Baton Rouge, but they always said it was my choice. One day he drove to Lafayette and told me, ‘You’re one of the top 10 referees in the country, you’re from Louisiana, we have a good thing going on over there and we want you to be a part of it.’ One thing about Dale, he was always selling Louisiana. I agreed to try a few. The next season Georgia is at LSU and during a timeout Dale doesn’t join the team in the huddle. He’s yelling at me across the court, and the crowd starts to join in. ‘Hey Boudreaux, go back to the Rec Department in Lafayette’ and ‘Don’t take I-10 back ’cause we’ll run you off the road.’ I just stood there regretting I ever listened to Dale. Only when the first horn blew did Dale join his team. Meanwhile, I went to the scorer’s table and assessed the LSU bench a technical. No signal. When the second horn blew and the players headed back to the court the announcer said, ‘Two-shot technical assessed LSU coach Dale Brown.’ Monday I told my secretary if Dale called to refer him to the SEC office. Later she comes and says, ‘Dale wants to apologize.’ Dale told me, ‘I’m not apologizing to the SEC, I’m apologizing to you personally, especially after I talked you into coming over here in the first place.’”
Boudreaux said he ignored “coaches who whined 100 percent of the time” or tried to intimidate or interfere with calling the game: “Players play, coaches coach and officials officiate. When lines are crossed you have to deal with it.”
The coaches he paid closest attention to were the ones who only asked one or two questions a game. “They already knew the answer, and often my response was, ‘I missed that one.’ I was not afraid to tell players the same thing. But no more than once a game because I always added, ‘I’m not going to miss another one tonight.’ I used one I missed as a wake-up call. I concentrated on the fact that I couldn’t have that happen again. I would try to run better angles, to get better positioning for better looks. I couldn’t allow a missed call to get me stuck on stupid.”
Boudreaux has officiated many memorable games. The 2003 championship game with Carmelo Anthony leading Syracuse to a 81-78 win over Kansas was one. The 1999 championship won by Connecticut over Duke 77-74 was another, a game UConn coach Jim Calhoun called “one of the best games I’ve ever been involved with.” Then there was Boudreaux’s first trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis, a semi-final with Arizona that was Dean Smith’s last game at North Carolina. But the best game Boudreaux ever refereed was in that basketball hotbed, Oxford, Miss., in 1989. Says Boudreaux, “Gerald Glass had 53, Chris Jackson had 55. I’m not sure who won.” (Ole Miss in OT 113-112).
Boudreaux is concerned about the current college game. Scoring is down, and many games are aesthetically unattractive. And it hasn’t been easy for referees either. “When the ball doesn’t go in the hole, it’s hard to officiate. If the play is not good, the officiating is not good. And it’s more difficult to be consistent because there are more rebounds and more turnovers. The easiest games are when the ball goes in the hole.”
Many reasons have been offered for the decline in play: AAU teams traveling to tournaments rather than practicing, the lure of getting on ESPN with a monster dunk, the coaching emphasis on defense, and development of scouting and metrics to neutralize an opponent’s offense. Even so, Boudreaux is not surprised referees are given the lead role “keeping the games from being boring.”
“The old standard was ‘advantage/disadvantage.’ Can I let that contact go? Did it affect play? It worked if referees were consistent and had a feel for the flow of the game. The philosophy was let them play because the fans came to see the players, not the referees.” Today, Boudreaux believes, a decision was made to apply the rules differently to open up play. An example is the current directive to referees to favor blocks over charges. “You can’t direct rules as if refereeing was a science and simply apply rules differently,” he says. “The game is too complicated to be a science. There is too much judgment involved.”
Looking back on his officiating career, one memory stands out. “My mother was gravely ill in December 2004. I was scheduled for Kentucky-Louisville, Tubby Smith versus Rick Pitino a week before Christmas. I let my assignor know that I wasn’t certain I could leave my mother but would let him know a week before the game. She rallied and I was able to do the game. Afterwards I called her. She said, ‘You wouldn’t believe who called this morning. Tubby Smith.’ Now she was in the hospital and it would have been hard to reach her, especially from Kentucky, and Tubby had said nothing to me about her before the game. I told her, ‘I’m glad you didn’t tell me before the game. I’m not supposed to have a favorite.’”
As the interview was winding down and we were walking through the parking lot of his office, I asked Boudreaux about strong speculation he will make a run for the District 24 Senate seat, now held by Elbert Guillory. Was he worried about who he might face?
Not this guy: “My athletic experience taught me to prepare myself as best I can and not back down from a challenge.”
John Mikell believes energy-efficient air conditioning and football are the keys to Louisiana’s future. He lives near Grand Coteau.