Boys basketball

Officiating duo Wise and Kvachkoff to retire after basketball season

2013-11-09T17:00:00Z 2013-11-10T02:23:06Z Officiating duo Wise and Kvachkoff to retire after basketball seasonSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com
November 09, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | It was 1980. The hair was long, the shirts polyester and the mustaches danced to a Bee Gees beat.

Mark Wise was coaching an elementary boys basketball team at St. Mary's in Crown Point. The night fever got hot. He was barking every time the whistle blew. Steve Kvachkoff was learning to be a basketball official.

The two former teammates at Crown Point got nose-to-nose.

"Steve was terrible," Wise said with a wry smile.

"I almost T-ed him up," Kvachkoff said, holding up his right hand and moving it like a mouth after six cups of coffee. "That's all he did. Yack. Yack. Yack."

One would think this near blowup would carry over for years, a lingering animosity with no end. But Kvachkoff spoke to Wise later and suggested he should put a whistle around his neck, too.

Their journey came together from that one conversation, similar to them playing guard for coach Bob Bender at C.P.H.S.

Wise, a 1978 C.P. grad, and Kvachkoff, a '79 grad, started officiating together in 1982. They worked middle school and CYO games at the start. The two began working IHSAA varsity basketball in 1990.

Wise has worked six state championship basketball games in Indianapolis and Kvachkoff five.

But as the IHSAA season starts on Monday, the first day of boys basketball practice, Wise and Kvachkoff have come together to say this season will be their last before retiring.

"I get pumped up for the start of every season, every game," Kvachkoff said.

"It's just time," Wise added.

Working hundreds of basketball games, both boys and girls, bring memories that could fill a hundred scrapbooks. Both refs have lists of the best player they've ever officiated, one for both genders.

Wise said Annie Kvachkoff, Steve's sister, and Nancy Cowan were the two best girls players. The two guards took Crown Point to three straight state championship games and two state titles in the mid 1980s.

Lawrence North's Greg Oden, the NBA's No. 1 draft pick in 2007, was the best boys player he ever worked.

Kvachkoff never officiated his sister's games. So he picked South Bend Washington's Skylar Diggins as the best girls player. He worked the Notre Dame star in the Region Roundball Rumble in 2009.

His boys pick is a no-brainer.

"Glenn Robinson," Kvachkoff said. "(Roosevelt) was playing Bishop Noll in a packed house and he took off from about eight feet out on a dunk. He threw it down like nothing I'd ever seen.

"I just stopped and applauded. Like everyone else."

The two also worked games where Michigan's Glenn Robinson III was a star at Lake Central a couple of years back. Both were impressed with Trey's game, too.

The IHSAA has worked hard to get younger people involved in officiating because of a growing shortage of people willing to wear the zebra suit in front of a packed gym.

As more and more veteran refs step down, new blood will need to step in or the game could get into trouble. The job is fun, but it isn't easy at all.

"We know how it goes," Wise said. "On every call half the people are going to love you and half the people are going to hate you. That's how it is."

Both refs admitted they've missed calls through the years. Kvachkoff looked at it somewhat philosophically. Or satirically.

"You can see the game better from the bleachers," said Kvachkoff with a poker face. "You're sitting up looking down on the game. We've got 10 guys running and bumping into each other. We get screened more than the people in the stands.

"So someone up there, after a call, looks to the guy next to him and asks, 'Should I boo?'"

Officials are like plumbers, teachers, pastors, movie stars or sports writers. Some days are better than others. Like a jump shooter, officials also have nights where they draw more iron than net.

In a game between Valparaiso and Portage a few years back, Kvachkoff got to the game tired after long hours at his day job. The goal of getting every call right didn't happen.

"Steve was missing calls all over the place," said Wise, who was working the game.

So Valpo assistant coach Jim McDonald was barking at Wise during a break in the game. Kvachkoff saw them talking with a serious tone on their faces. Wise told McDonald that Kvachkoff had been served divorce papers earlier in the day.

"It calmed him down a little," Wise said.

"But at that time I was single," Kvachkoff said with a smile. "I had to tell Jim that later."

Injuries to both men have slowed their steps in recent years. Gaining family time, though, is the fuel for the retirements.

"We weren't home at night Tuesday through Saturday for years," Wise said.

"I've got three young kids now," Kvachkoff said. "I would rather be home with them than out on a winter night."

First, both men give big credit to their wives, Cindy Wise and Jodi Kvachkoff, for being patient, supportive and there for them. Such careers would have been impossible without the nod of their partners.

Both also gave credit to former Crown Point girls hoops coach Tom May, also an IHSAA official, for being a mentor, as both men worked to perfect their craft over 32 years of work.

For three years Chuck Harville has been the third member of this crew. Kvachkoff calls him Rain Man.

"He has the rule book memorized," he said. "Backward and forward."

The two are still competitive, as they remembered their careers together on Tuesday night. A conversation about the quickest technical foul that Kvachkoff called came up.

It was like they were back at St. Mary's again.

"We were at Morgan Twp. and I threw the jump ball up," Wise said. "Before the ball came down Steve blew his whistle. Three seconds. Three seconds into a game he called a T."

"Oh, it was not three seconds," Kvachkoff exclaimed, defending himself. "It had to be at least 16 seconds."

Wise works for Strack and Van Til. Kvachkoff works for Star Freight. These jobs they will still punch the clock.

But their love and respect for Indiana high school basketball is one year from being done. They will open their season on Nov. 27 when Lowell plays Hanover Central.

After this winter they will have to buy a ticket to watch the game they both love. Unless, of course, they do a Phil Jackson and retire multiple times and come back.

"That's not going to happen," Kvachkoff said.

"It's just time," Wise added.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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