Father-son referee duo proud to officiate games together


By Frank Bonner II | For The Tribune


Referee Jim Davis prefers to know another official he is assigned to work with during a game.

Having a feel for the type of mannerisms of the other referees and knowing how they call games, such as what they consider a touch foul in basketball, are important aspects to know.

When your officiating partner is your father or son, it doesn’t get much better than that, say two father-son officiating duos.

Davis’ 35-year officiating career started out pretty similar to how Jim Kleinhenz’s 30-year journey began. Both started out refereeing their childrens’ games. Now, sons J.R. Davis and Mike Kleinhenz have followed in their footsteps.

Mike caught the officiating bug early by umpiring county league baseball and softball games at age 14. He saw his dad referee football games and wanted a taste of that also.

“He said, ‘Hey Dad, can I ref football with you?’” Jim Kleinhenz said. “I said, ‘Yeah you can get licensed as soon as you graduate.’ He then went to college and earned extra money by officiating.”

Mike celebrated his 40th birthday over the summer and has been a licensed official for 22 years, more than half his life.

J.R. Davis grew up watching his father officiate games and said being able to be around young athletes and watching them grow up was a big reason he followed his dad into refereeing. The 30-year-old has been officiating games alongside his dad for eight years.

“It gives you a sense of enjoyment to help a kid grow and build a relationship with people,” J.R. said. “It’s what I love to do. I’ve always played basketball. I’ve always been around it. I’m not going to go to the NBA, so why not just stick around and do something else that is helping out in another way?”

J.R. sometimes would get frustrated with some of the calls that didn’t go his way when his dad officiated his games as a child. Jim Davis would go into further detail about certain calls once they got home to help his son better improve his game. Some of those father-and-son teaching moments still come into play with certain aspects of officiating.

Jim Davis, 64, said J.R. was just as nervous about how the crowd and coaches would react to calls when he was as young referee starting out. He said referees just have to maintain a thick skin and take nothing personal from coaches and fans.

“He’ll tell you I’m harder on him than I would be anybody else,” Jim Davis said. “Expecting him to be in the right place or ‘Did you really see that? I thought I had a better angle on it.’ He’s learned to defend himself and say ‘No, this is what I saw.’ That’s what you have to do as an official . You don’t guess at it — you think you saw it. You saw it.”

J.R. officiates nothing but basketball, while his father does both basketball and volleyball at all levels leading up to high school. The Kleinhenzes officiate football and basketball at all levels, including some semipro football games. Jim Kleinhenz and his son Mike also referee during the high school postseason.

Every referee has to take a 100-question test per sport to get licensed for life. Those who referee during the postseason have to take the test every two years to make sure they are knowledgeable about any new rule changes, which Jim Kleinhenz said are being added all the time. One of the big ones he remembers is the point of emphasis on hand-checking in basketball that Jim Kleinhenz said was put into the college game a couple of years ago. That trickled down to the high school game, as well.

At 61, Jim Kleinhenz said he plans to keep officiating as long as his body holds up.

“You’re part of the game,” he said. “You get to see what’s happening. You see kids making great plays and great decisions. You get to see coaches making good decisions or bad decisions. The excitement of the crowd, it’s just fun being out there with the kids. I still enjoy it.”

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