Photo by Christine Troyke
For the few hours they wear the black-and-white striped jerseys, basketball officials morph into someone else, with an on-court persona that starts to define them.
They are by design a hidden part of the game, even as their faces and calls, good and bad, give them a sort of notoriety. When they get recognized in the community, it's often because of their part-time job as a high school referee, though it's only a small portion of their lives.
That's a point Buford resident Tim McLean likes to make -- officials are regular people with regular jobs. And regular problems.
McLean and some of his colleagues with the Multi-County Basketball Officials Association, the state's largest officials association with more than 180 people, can't solve those problems. But they have found a way to help.
They recently founded The Zebra Foundation, a nonprofit that aids fellow officials during troubled times and also gives scholarships to deserving student-athletes in the area.
"Over the last few years we've had several officials either get hurt, we had one die, we've had some family issues and other people struggling in these tough economic times that needed help," said McLean, entering his 20th season with MCBOA. "What we've done in the past is passing the hat (to get donations). A lot of us have been there a long time and we're a very close, tight-knit group. When you're out on the court, it's just the three of you. We finally came together after a few meetings and said what if we put something together, a nonprofit with some status, bring the whole organization together and funnel some of philanthropic stuff through one organization."
So The Zebra Foundation was born.
It started after the death of a Multi-County official, whose family needed assistance. The organization already has helped an official whose wife and children were seriously injured in a car accident. Another official lost his job and faced health issues, but he got a boost from the foundation.
"These people are facing tremendous adversity and this is something, you've got to start somewhere," said McLean, whose children went to Mill Creek. "What we try to tell our officials is one night or one game can make a difference. We originally started by saying, can you donate one night's pay, which in Georgia High School Association, is $100 for two games? If you get a bunch of people do that, you can make a difference. We've even had guys this year during the summertime, you get $20 a game for AAU, they donate to us."
McLean is executive director of the foundation, but he said fellow officials Greg Hays, Jeff McNicol, Doug Richardson and Willie Crosby have been just as important to the fledgling non-profit.
The group's other function is providing scholarships, a service that was boosted by its recent fundraiser golf tournament. The Zebra Foundation awarded its first two scholarships June 14 to North Gwinnett's Will Bates and Dacula's Breanna Overby.
Those grants are a way for the officials to give back, in addition to their foundation that offers support in tough times.
"The Zebra Foundation has already helped two student-athletes and two officials in need in its first year," said Kevin Self, a Multi-County official. "Through its continued growth the benefits in the Gwinnett Community and beyond are limitless. Tim has the desire and motivation to make The Zebra Foundation a success, so look to hear more positive stories and contributions in the future."
Those involved, like Self, get a level of comfort knowing the foundation is there to back them up.
"We have lawyers, teachers, great professional people involved in our organization, folks who care about the community," McLean said. "Multi-County's just an awesome group of people. The people you see in the gym, he or she is not the enemy. He or she's out there trying to share in what the coaches, teachers and administrators are trying to do. We just have a different role, to manage the game. We want the best team to win in a fair manner."