After refereeing more than 2,500 basketball games over a span of three decades, Jeff Bryant still has a passion for his avocation. After officiating in six NCAA Division I leagues, the NCAA Division III Final Four, the NIT, the New York State scholastic finals (five times) and many other college and high school divisions, Bryant still loves to don the basketball official’s striped shirt and black pants and spend an afternoon or evening making calls to ensure a fair and equitable contest.
“For me, probably one of the most relaxing parts of my day is the two hours I spend refereeing a game, because my mind is on nothing else,” says Bryant, a 1971 Tappan Zee High School graduate.
And during those two hours on the court, Bryant – or any official, for that matter – cannot afford to let his mind wander. “The main thing is concentration; if you lose concentration, that’s always when something happens,” he says. It’s like when you are driving a car and you don’t pay attention. It’s amazing how many things go through a referee’s mind; the situations in a game, what happened in the last play, the foul situation, the score, the time, so many things that become second nature. For that 40 minutes or 32 minutes, you have to really be focuses on what you’re doing.”
Bryant began his officiating career by refereeing youth games asa high school junior at the Saturday morning recreation program at Tappan Zee, run by one of his teachers and early mentors, Dan Dinan. Bryant furthered his officiating interest at Wagner College, where refereed intramurals and assigned officials for the school’s intramural program. While still an undergraduate at Wagner, Bryant passed the officials’ certification test and began to referee high school basketball games.
And so began a 30-year (and counting) odyssey that has taken him as far west as Chicago, as far south as South Carolina and as far north as Maine. During the season from November to March, he works an average of five to six games a week. That’s a lot of gymnasiums, a lot of cities and towns, and a lot of lasting friendships.
“It’s almost like a subculture,” says Bryant, who officiates college men’s and high schoolboys’ games. “You sit down after a week of games and you say, ‘This week I was there, I was there, and I was there.’ You do enjoy it; you meet a lot of great people. My [basketball] brethren are generally the nicest people in the world. You meet a lot of fine officials, coaches, kids, administrators. It is very rewarding.”
Along the way, many people have influenced Bryant’s officiating career, including Dinan; Ken Wallace, an official and friend of Bryant’s father who “helped me get involved”; former official Fred Rosen; Dixie Reilly, a longtime and well-known Rockland referee; and not least, Jim Kane, the former assigner of officials for the Rockland Public School Athletic League and “the guy who helped every official in Rockland County.”
There have been many memorable games in Bryant’s officiating career, such as his first assignments at Madison Square Garden and the Palestra in Philadelphia. His greatest local memory is officiating the last Rockland County championship game in the early 1980s, before Rockland moved to Section 1. The game, played at Clarkstown South, pitted Albertus Magnus against Spring Valley, coached respectively by Rockland Hall of Famers Tom Collins and Lou Kliewe. “I worked the game with Mickey Germain, and the place was packed,” Bryant recalls. Spring Valley won by a couple of points; it was a very memorable game.”
Bryant was a four-sport athlete at Tappan Zee who was the school’s co-athlete of the year in 1971. He made second-team All-County in baseball two years and honorable mention All-County as a 6-foot-3 forward in basketball, trying to match up with the likes of frontcourt stars like Clarkstown’s Bob Mathias and Gary Custick and Nanuet’s Darryl Brown.
At Wagner, for which he graduated in 1976 with a degree in business and economics, Bryant was the Seahawks’ football offensive player of the year in 1975 as a punter, kicker and split end. He was also a pitcher and outfielder in baseball and played basketball as well.
After graduating from Wagner, Bryant developed a strong competitive golf game. He won several local club championships, including Rockland Country Club’s title six times from 1979 to 1992, and twice qualified for the U.S.G.A. Public Links Tournament.
Bryant’s involvement in basketball officiating extends beyond the parameters of the court. For 11 years, from 1991 to last September, he was Rockland County rules interpreter and a classroom instructor for new officials.
Bryant. Who is 49, has been an Allstate insurance agent for six years after 17 years as an independent agent. Raised in Tappan, he now lives in Pearl River with his wife Susan, son Gregory, who turned 13 on May 2, and daughter Jennifer, 11.