HERSHEY, Pa. – Nancy Mason of Cranberry Venango County stays involved in high school sports because it gives her a chance to love the sports she likes and to make an impact on young people’s lives.
(Photo by Paul Burdick. Check out more of Burdick’s work here)
She doesn’t do it for glory, fame or money, and she certainly didn’t think a story on her being an official at the pinnacle of events for high school officials – the PIAA Championships – was anything anyone really cared about.
That’s just who she is. A great person who wants to help and influence kids in their formative years whether that be as a coach, an official or a parent.
“It’s like I tell my kids,” Mason, who has four children including current Cranberry girls’ basketball coach Carrie Melat, said. “It’s about as close as I can get to loving my sports that I like by helping out and hopefully making an impact on the kids’ lives, not only in sports but just in reality. I want to be able to show them the different things that might happen in life.”
One of the things that happens in life is good people get good rewards.
And Mason was awarded this week with her second opportunity to officiate a PIAA basketball championship when she was chosen along with fellow District 10 officials Norm Stanford and Jeffrey McIlhinney to call the Class 5A girls’ title game between Mars and Archbishop Wood.
“It’s unbelievable when you get the call to come down to states,” Mason said. “It’s a whirlwind. It’s a call that comes two or three days before you have to leave. Everything goes so fast and the game itself is one of the fastest games you ever do.”
Like any official, Mason’s goal is that she isn’t remembered at all.
“I think every official looks to have a great game, to have a close game, one that goes down to the wire but that you have no effect on,” Mason, whose crew so exactly that when Mars came away with a steal and a basket with under five seconds to play to win the title, said. “I think that is fantastic and what every official looks for.”
While Mason and her fellow officials hope they aren’t seen, it doesn’t make them any less nervous. They are human, after all, and have nerves just like the players, coaches and fans.
“This was my second one,” Mason, who also officiated a PIAA title game when the championships were held at Penn State, said. “But it was not any less nerve-wracking. I brought two new guys with me this time, and I had never been here at the Giant Center.”
Mason also had more responsibility this time around being the lead referee.
“The only different thing for the ‘R’ (as the lead ref is known in officiating lingo) is doing the things the ‘R’ has to do before the game (check the books, meet with the teams and administrators, etc). Once the ball goes up, we are all the same.”
Officiating a game in a big arena like the Giant Center, which seats over 10,000, isn’t that big of a deal, Mason said.
“It’s not bad,” Mason said. “The floor isn’t any worse than a college floor. Most of the time we can block out all of the other things being said except from coaches and stuff. Once you get past the first few minutes of nerves and stuff, I think it’s a game and you just have to call your game.”
Blocking things out was one of the first things Mason learned as a referee after she became one while coaching junior high basketball at Cranberry and a fellow coach talked her into taking her test 22 years ago.
“It didn’t take long for me to decide it was something I liked to do,” Mason said. “Once you get through the thick skin of people hollering at you. You have to realize, it is only 50 percent that you upset with every call.”
Mason has had the unique opportunity to see basketball from all angles – coach, parent and official.
“I have been fortunate and very lucky to see all three aspects, as a parent in the stands, a coach on the bench and an official on the floor,” Mason said.
From all three aspects – and in addition to currently officiating Mason is also helping the Cranberry softball team as an assistant coach – she has been able to impact young athletes and she sometimes gets a glimpse of that impact.
“I have had a few who say they have been off doing stuff and thought of some of the things I had to say to them,” Mason said. “They are in their mid-20s and 30s now. I’m surprised that they actually remember those things.”
Mason said she couldn’t do what she does without the support of her family which, in addition to daughter Carrie, includes husband Brian, daughters Jennie and Kylie and son Tony.
“I couldn’t do all of this without the help and support of my husband and family,” Mason said. “They have been my rock through it all. I’m truly blessed.”