BOONE — There are three teams on the court when a basketball game is played. There are the two teams on the scoreboard and the team of referees that enforce the rules.
Watauga High graduate Daniel Clark, 31, has been officiating games since he was 18 years old. He was already making his mark in prep sports at Watauga by being an unofficial sports information director for the Watauga football team by his junior year. Former Watauga football coach Adrian Snow recruited Clark to keep the stats for the Pioneers, and that drew Clark to participating behind the scenes of the Watauga athletic department.
Clark also completed an internship under supervision of former Appalachian State Sports Information Director Mike Flynn.
Eventually, Clark took an interest in officiating. He’s been a member of the Piedmont Officials Association since 2008 and still officiates prep games. He also has worked junior college games since 2014 and has been the coordinator of officials for the Watauga Middle School Basketball League.
The Sun Belt Conference started to show interest in Clark when the Southern Conference’s Director of Officials Mike Wood had a talk with Clark during the Southern Conference Tournament in 2015. Clark was helping the conference’s sports information office as a volunteer, and he and Wood sat down for lunch during a game neither was working. Clark expressed his interest in officiating on the college level and Wood suggested he attend an officials camp he ran, which was part of a team camp being run at Clemson.
“We got to talking about officiating and he said I knew more about this than he really thought,” Clark said. “I did some refereeing a little bit with high schools and he said I should come to his camp. There are some summer training camps where they hire people from.”
Clark went back to the camp and was hired by Wood to officiate in the Southern, the Sun Belt and Division II Peach Belt Conference. Clark has been hooked on officiating ever since.
He also works prep football games starting as back judge and has started being booked as a referee. He also is a qualified baseball umpire and a volleyball referee.
But basketball is his primary passion. Clark is now employed by the Sun Belt, Southern and Atlantic Sun Conferences. Clark did not officiate the Sun Belt in 2017-18 when Wood was no longer director of officials, but Clark was hired back by the league the following year.
Clark also works Division II games in the South Atlantic Conference and the Peach Belt Conference.
“I was very fortunate when I got going with my connections with keeping stats and doing all the sports information and media relations and stuff,” Clark said. “I was at the Southern Conference Tournament and I got to meet Mike Wood, who used to referee in the ACC.”
Clark has developed a thick skin and a confidence in himself that allows him to shake off any criticism that comes with the job from coaches and fans. He doesn’t take the criticism personally, saying that those people are not upset with him as much as they are with the referee who made the call they don’t like.
But he has his stories about fans and coaches who have been upset with him. There are the rare instances when coaches agree with his calls, even when the call goes against them. He recalled an instance where he called a foul, which was the player’s fifth of the game.
That player, while walking off the court, intentionally bumped into the free throw shooter, which earned him a technical foul from Clark.
“As I’m walking to the table to report the foul, here comes the coach running to mid-court and he’s yelling ‘What are you doing?’ and pointing his finger right at me,” Clark said. “I’m like oh no, here we go. I kind of stopped and froze and little did I know that the kid who I called the technical foul on was walking right behind me and the coach was yelling at the kid.”
Clark said one of the important things he learned was knowing what to say to the coaches, who may react differently during a heated exchange.
“One of those things along that line is profanity,” he said. “There was a no call that my partner had and the coach said, ‘Daniel, that’s a bleeping foul.’ I turned around without thinking and looked him dead in the eye and said, ‘That’s not a bleeping foul. Media timeout.’ It was one of my first games in that particular league and I was a little red-faced because I said it without thinking. We came out of the media timeout and I was in front of him and he said, ‘You know what, that wasn’t a bleeping foul. You’re 100 percent right.’ He kind of laughed it off and I was like, ‘Thank God.’ That scared the daylights out of me.”
Clark doesn’t take complaints from fans and coaches personally, and said that consistency is the key to being a successful official. He also wants to be known as an official who is fair to both teams, no matter who those teams are.
“If you’ve got Watauga and Ashe, Watauga may be fouling 10 times and Ashe may not be fouling and that may be because of style of play,” Clark said. “There are a lot of factors involved that I don’t think people take into consideration that we have to take into consideration.”