Refereeing a Prusz family affairMarch 2, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Elliot Prusz thought the last time he would officiate a game this season was when he called Princeton’s Feb. 13 junior varsity game at Boonville, but then, he got a surprise call from his older brother, Harrison, on Thursday.
Harrison and his father, Don, were scheduled to referee Vincennes Lincoln’s game at Pike Central, but the other person who was supposed to officiate had to drop out, opening a vacancy just hours before the game. That’s when Harrison made the call.
“I literally called him at like two o’clock, and said, ‘Hey, you’re joining the game with me and Dad tonight at Pike Central,’ ” Harrison said.
“We had plans next year to do our first call together, but getting this opportunity this year — it would be my last game, I was totally for it,” Elliot said.
Basketball is a love for the three Prusz referees — just like it is for many families in Indiana. All three played the game, and all three are Southridge graduates. Don graduated in 1977, Harrison in 2004 and Elliot in 2011. The memories of the game resonate with the elder Prusz.
“I played the game, grew up watching the Holland Dutchmen in Dubois County,” Don said. “Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, basketball was life. So, I love the game.”
Don engaged as an intramural referee in college at Indiana State University, and the longtime teacher at Forest Park served as the Rangers’ girls varsity coach before Marty Niehaus took over. He got out of coaching, raised his family and worked on his family farm, but he couldn’t possibly keep away from the game.
“Jarred Howard was on staff at Forest Park before he became the director of the Patoka Valley Vocational (Cooperative), and he was a referee,” he said. “And we’d talk, and he started to build a fire in me, I guess you’d say.”
He began officiating boys games during the 2011-12 season, right after Elliot graduated, and was calling girls games a couple of years before that. Elliot and Harrison would later follow in his footsteps.
“I thought, ‘If my dad does this, I’d like to get into it — that’d be something we could do together and just be together and spend more time together,’ ” Harrison said.
However, anybody who dons the stripes is bound to bear the brunt of the frustration of coaches and fans, which presents its challenges to officials like the Prusz family. Harrison himself can attest being frustrated at referees before in his life.
“When my brother played, I was his biggest fan,” Harrison said. “I probably yelled at referees more than anybody in the gym. The very first time I did a varsity game, I thought, ‘You know what? This is way harder being down here and seeing things that you don’t get a good angle at or can’t see from the stands.’ ”
“You get straight lined by bodies and there’s plays that happen that you can’t see, and if you can’t see it, you can’t call it,” Don said. “And the fans, the coaches, they’re going to see it and they’re going to have a different angle. So, there’s going to be times when you’re getting lit up by a thousand fans all booing at once or a coach really coming over to give you the business after a call he didn’t agree with.
“The most important thing you can do is be honest about what you saw, didn’t see and just let them know why you made the call you did or passed on the call you didn’t because that’s really all we’ve got,” he added.
The three of them met before the game to have an officials’ meeting prior to the Alices and Chargers tipping off. Don had the responsibility of being the head referee, and he told his sons that they’ve called plenty of games before. He advised them to trust their whistle, and their judgment. Don wanted Harrison and Elliot to both wait for the play to develop and have a patient whistle.
He also wanted the three of them to have fun, and he felt they did just that. Don noted that as a referee, his job is to focus on the players, and not on them, but from what he saw, his sons did well.
Harrison felt things went smoothly in a game that saw Vincennes Lincoln notch a 61-49 victory for its second win of the year.
“I thought last night went really well,” he said on Friday. “There are games where sometimes I might personally call one and after the game, I just think, ‘Man, I just don’t really like my call.’ And then you go home and you watch a film, and you work harder to make sure you get it right next time.
“As far as last night goes, I didn’t see anything that I personally called or my dad or my brother called that just stood out to being wrong,” Harrison continued.
Harrison tweeted out a photo of the the three of them after the game, which had received more than 500 likes as of Monday. Indiana High Athletic Association Commissioner Paul Neidig was one who gave the trio a shoutout.
They walked off the court knowing it was a good experience.
“Going into it, I thought the records of the teams weren’t very impressive at all, but it was just a really great ballgame to watch, actually,” Elliot said. “I was thankful for that, and just glad I had my first varsity experience with my dad and my brother.”
“I’m happy to see that they tried it, they like it, they do realize what a challenge it is,” Don said. “And they’re not doing it because they want to be famous referees. They’re doing it because they both played basketball, they both love the game. They both know the IHSAA needs officials — there are none too many to go around, and they’re taking their turn to help provide a service so these youngsters in their communities can play basketball.”
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