Chuck Brittain started while he was in college.
He took every junior high and junior varsity basketball officiating job he could find. He did that for five years before he ever got his chance to work in a high school varsity game.
“And I made a ton of cash, because on Saturday they would pay 35, 40 bucks for a couple junior high games, and I could go somewhere else in the afternoon and do a freshman game or something like that," said Brittain, now the coordinator of officials for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
“I would pull in 100 bucks a day, and that was in 1974. That was quite a bit of money. But what I didn’t realize was all the connections I was making. I was thinking I was going to be a teacher. Well, I knew every athletic director in the whole area. So when I put in my resumes, I knew somebody at that school. That was a big advantage."
Brittain said there are all sorts of positive aspects for young people considering going into officiating. He highly recommends it, not only as a way to make money but as a means of personal development.
And it’s pretty easy to become a certified official.
In Iowa, it’s just a matter of paying a small fee, passing a rules test and then sitting through a rules meeting online. In Illinois, beginning officials also must attend a clinic.
“And then it’s kind of like: If you do a pretty good job, they move you forward," Brittain said. “You might work junior high games for a year just figuring out how to raise your hand and blow your whistle at the same time, because that’s hard to do."
He said there are all sorts of benefits he didn’t expect when he first got into the profession.
“Officiating taught me how to deal with people," he said. “It taught me how to deal with violent people. It taught me how to make a volatile situation calm. There’s so many things I’ve used in my daily life that, if it wasn’t for officiating, I wouldn’t have figured them out for 20 years."
Then there are the physical fitness benefits that come with running up and down a gym floor, chasing youngsters.
“There are a lot of people who pay $60, $70, $80 a month for a gym membership," Brittain said. “If you referee basketball, you don’t need one."