Local Father and Son Are Making Their Mark – and Good Memories – as Referees

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Amy Payne

BrownsburgDoug Mayfield became a licensed referee 14 years ago, just before his son, Preston, turned 2. At the time, he and his wife, Shanna, had twins who were 21 months older than Preston. Shanna was home with the three boys, so Doug, owner and president of Dryer Vent Wizard of Central Indiana, needed to find a way to supplement his income. Refereeing turned out to be a great gig as it enabled him to be involved with sports while making some extra money on the side.

“I was like, ‘Hmm, this is fun!’” Doug says. It was a family affair, as Shanna would often bring the three boys to the games to watch their dad officiate. Early in Doug’s reffing career, they bought Preston a little referee shirt to wear to the games. One time during a game against Franklin Central, Preston leaned over to his mom and said, “Mommy, I forgot to wear my referee shirt! What if the other ref doesn’t come? I’ll need to help daddy!”

As fate would have it, the other ref didn’t show up, leaving Doug to ref the whole game by himself. These days Doug doesn’t have to worry about that.

In 2020, after watching his dad ref games for more than a decade, Preston, an eighth-grader at the time, took a class through the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), then became a licensed referee so he could begin officiating for the Brownsburg Junior Basketball League. He officiates games with his dad as well as a number of other senior officials.

“That’s good for him to get constructive criticism from others and not just dad,” Doug says. “Last year I told him, ‘I’ve given you your wings. It’s time for you to fly.’” Preston, now a sophomore, is in his third year of officiating and can referee basketball games for freshmen and below, until he turns 18.

It’s no surprise that Preston chose to walk in his father’s footsteps. They are, after all, both “sports freaks,” as Preston says. It’s clearly in the blood. Three generations of Mayfields – Preston, his brothers, Doug and his dad – all love to attend IndyCar races. Last year they attended six of them and hope to do the same this year.

“It’s something that all four boys have in common, and I love it because my dad used to race sprint cars in the ‘40s,” Doug says.

As for officiating, Preston has a new perspective these days now that he’s on the opposite side of the sport. While he used to complain about bad calls during games, now he’s more tolerant.

“I know that based on positioning, you can’t see everything,” Preston says.

BrownsburgFor junior varsity games and below, two people officiate – a trail official and a lead official. The varsity level has three. Each referee is responsible for certain areas of the court. Even though the ball may not be in that area, they are watching for illegal contact (for example, if a player is setting an illegal screen or grabbing another player’s jersey). If the ball comes into that area, they are watching all of that as well, so there’s a lot to pay attention to.

Prior to every game, Doug tells coaches, “We’re going to make mistakes. We may miss something but we’re going to give you our best.”

Officials get paid per game. If they do a middle school game, that’s two games in a row that they officiate, which means they make around $90. If it’s a freshman game, that’s about $60 for one game.

“A freshman game or eighth-grade game usually lasts about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, so it’s good money,” says Preston, who now officiates more often than his dad. The most games he’s officiated in a week is 15, and he earned $500 that week. One time Preston officiated eight games in one day – six without a break. He learned a lesson that day.

“That was a bit much,” Preston admits. “By the last game, my mind really wasn’t there.”

When he’s worked a lot of Saturday games and is asked to do more on Sunday, Doug has advised him not to.

“Bad habits develop when you’re not mentally there, so it’s not good for a new official to work too much when you’re still working on mechanics,” Doug says.

Preston hopes to make a career out of officiating, and he’s off to a great start, as he is one of the youngest licensed basketball officials in the state of Indiana. According to the IHSAA, he is one of 39 kids in the state under the age of 18 with a basketball officiating license. The average age of a ref in Indiana is 52.

“There are 3,120 licensed basketball officials, so he is in the 1% of the youngest,” Doug says.

Brian Lewis, assistant commissioner for the IHSAA, is in charge of boys basketball for the state. He’s thrilled to see Preston’s interest and energy at such a young age.

During the first game Preston ever reffed, one of the coaches was irritated by a call Preston made.

“It’s intimidating when you’re 15 years old and here’s this grown man getting all bent out of shape, but Preston handled himself very well,” Doug says. “He’s good about citing the rule book and then the coaches don’t have anything to say. It’s all about networking, staying fit, staying humble and listening to people.”

BrownsburgCurrently, there’s a major shortage of referees, and Doug suspects that may be because many younger people don’t feel equipped to deal with the difficulties that come with the job.

“You have to have thick skin to do this,” Doug says. “You also have to make the call and then move on.”

Preston has figured that out already. “It’s a job people don’t want to do because you get yelled at,” he says. “It’s easy to sit in the stands and yell.”

Sometimes Preston and his friends used to sit in the front row at Brownsburg High School basketball games and yell at the refs in a joking fashion. Sometimes the refs would holler back, and it was all in good fun. “Now I’m on the opposite side of that,” Preston says.

Both father and son are thrilled to be able to make money and get some exercise, all while being a part of their favorite sport.

Doug coaches his younger son, Easton, a fourth-grader in the Brownsburg Junior Basketball League, and Preston is officiating, so it truly is a family affair.

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