The second they stepped off the bus, they had two fouls

It was during the summer when Craig Parker called to say his basketball team at New London High School earned an invitation to the Northeast Christmas Classic Tournament in Bridgeport, an extravaganza also featuring Trinity Catholic of Stamford and St. Joseph of Trumbull.

"So, you're playing St. Joe's?" I said.

"The second night," Parker said.

I chuckled, recalling the line from the great Rich Magner at Xavier High, the coach when I was there. Magner used to tell the players of such trips, "Just so you know fellas ... the second you step off the bus, you have two fouls."

Parker chuckled, too, knowing there was a warped sort of wisdom in Magner's public service announcement.

And we saw its ugliest illustration Wednesday night.

So we're clear: Horrific officiating hijacked every morsel of intrigue in a game between perhaps the state's two best teams. New London and St. Joe's, prepared to hit the accelerator, were relegated to a tractor pull because of three officials who 1) couldn't keep up; and 2) mistook the spotlight for themselves, not the players.

So we're clear, Part II: The unwritten rule that unfavorable whistles happen in direct proportion to your distance from home makes for interesting talk at the barber shop and the tavern. But it's time - again - we demand a deeper sense of obligation and responsibility from officials and the people who assign them to ensure games are officiated, not dominated.

New London's Kris Dunn, the state's reigning player of the year, fouled out with 6:57 left. Teammate Keith Porter followed soon. Quincy McKnight, an aspiring Division I player at St. Joe's, fouled out after Porter.

Even a player on the winning team, Timajh Parker of St. Joe's, told the Connecticut Post after the game, "It's sad to see a talent like that go out so early in a competitive game."

It was beyond sad. It was unnecessary.

This is not about whining about the foul discrepancy, however egregious (New London 23, St. Joe's 11). This is about the attitudes of the gentlemen making the calls, their unwillingness to listen to the participants, their abject impatience and their obsession with interrupting the game flow.

More succinctly: They decided the game. Not the kids.

Dunn's technical foul was the most glaring example. Dunn, who has never been disrespectful to an official, disputed a jump ball call in the second quarter. Dunn already had two fouls. He said "come on" to the official, clapped his hands (not in the official's face) and started up the floor. That's when the technical came. It changed the game. All because of an official with an inflated sense of self-importance.

As the fourth quarter began, St. Joe's senior captain James Jennings was making his way to inbound the ball when one of the officials, whose time is clearly more valuable than yours and mine, put the ball on the ground and began the five-second count. Was that necessary?

This was a game between two of the state's best teams with the best player in Connecticut and two or three other future Division I kids. It was in a professional venue before 2,400 fans. If you can't control that kind of game without interjecting yourself in it, the game is too big for you. Period.

Lest you think this is some Whiny Walter from New London who is chafed because the locals lost, here is a sampling from other outposts:

Norman Waterman of fivestarbasketball.com via Twitter: "How did Dunn get a tech for 'come on' and a hand clap after a close call? Refs egos too big on all levels."

Henry Chisholm of the Connecticut Post via Twitter: "Dunn fouled out. This is wack. I'm sorry but the refs killed a classic game. People are actually leaving."

I would like to tell you the names of the three officials. Numerous (and I mean numerous) phone calls on Thursday produced a swing and a miss. Some didn't know their names. Others who did wouldn't say. Remember: Thou Shalt Protect Thy Officials At All Cost.

Here is what must happen: Tom Murray, one of the most fair-minded people the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference employs, coordinates officiating for state tournament games. He should watch a DVD of this game start to finish. And then he should ensure that the three officials in question are nowhere near the state tournament in March.

They don't deserve it.

They showed they couldn't handle a big time high school game.

Two of them acted as though they were too important for the occasion.

How sad.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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