Legendary College Basketball Official Ed Hightower Talks EXCLUSVIELY with Spartan Nation About Role Models and Why He Calls Players Together in Games!

Hondo S. Carpenter

Q: You sometimes will pull players aside during a game to tell them to “knock something off” instead of giving them a technical. Fans don't understand you are not showboating. In fact coaches love when you do that. Will you talk about doing that? It’s underrated and I wish more officials did it.

A: Again, I’m from the old school and first of all I’m an educator. I’m an educator, that’s number one. At a time when these young people are doing their best, they’re working hard, they’re trying to refine and develop their craft to move to the next level. This game is not about us. For those individuals who think that you’re just trying to get on TV, let me just tell you…guys like myself who have been around for a good while, what you don’t want is to be on TV. That’s number one. If you can pass on a comment to a player and say, Look. Come on now. You’re better than that. Don’t do that. Don’t embarrass yourself, your coach, your family. People are watching you. The little kids are respecting you. Be respectful for what you do. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Or they get in each other’s face. That’s just a temporary emotional outburst. If you can just hold that whistle and then you can talk to them and just say, Hey take care of that. Then the game is better. You’re gonna keep the players in the game. You’re gonna keep the coaches happy. And guess what, the fans come to see those players. Now yes, you can blow your whistle every time on every call, you can call a technical foul, you can eject a player, but what have you really accomplished? But don’t get me wrong. There are times when you have to do that. There are times when you have to go the full length of adjudicating the penalty in the worst way. But if you’re doing that all of the time, then you’re not a very good communicator. If you’re calling technical fouls all of the time on coaches, you’re not a very good communicator. It’s all about controlling the game. All about controlling the game, doing your hard work, keeping your mouth shut, communicating at the appropriate time, and then when you do communicate have something to say. That’s what this is about. And that is the problem that we’re getting away from. And that is where we need to be getting back to, some of the communication. Now for those individuals who say this guy is just trying to get on TV…no, you’re doing two things. You’re trying to keep players in the game and two, you’re trying to get the call right. Get the call right. It’s not who’s right but rather what’s right.

Q: Because you’re so well respected, you’re in the big games. When they see a big game they know that Ed Hightower’s gonna be there.

A: Well, I’ve been very fortunate over the years. I’ve been very fortunate over the years. Gosh, I’ve been in the Big 10 with for 31 years. It’s hard to believe, I broke into the Big 10 on a crew when I was about 28 years old. I worked my first Final Four when I was 34 years old. So I’ve been around a long time. So I realize I don’t run as fast as I used to, I realize that my time is getting near, I’m gonna fade away. But the moment that I stop being able to enjoy the game and make a contribution toward the betterment of the game, then I wanna walk away. Because it’s not about my ego, it certainly isn’t. And that’s another thing that really bothers me, when people say he’s got a big ego, this guy has a big ego. No, it’s not about that. It’s about being a perfectionist. It’s about trying to make the game better for the kids and trying to give them the tools in which to be successful out there on the floor. That’s what this is all about. But I realize that we all get to that point where it’s time to pass on the baton to another generation of young people who hopefully will respect the game and understand that this is a game for the players. This is not a job just for you to go out and make income. It’s a job that you should try and refine your skills, improve upon what you do and make the game better for the players. That’s what this is about. So that both teams have an equal opportunity to win the game. I guess the best compliment that I enjoy reading is, Boy he doesn’t like our team. Then we go to the next school, He doesn’t like our team. When we get all the way through the Big 10, I don’t like any of the teams. It’s all about being fair and not doing any more for one team than the other. But there is that line, there are some kids… There are some kids that you can’t help but to have an affinity for, an appreciation. I would say of one kid…he just graduated. You tell me what person couldn’t absolutely admire, admire, respect. Green. There is a young man right there that you wanna take into every high school, every elementary school and say, Young people. This is who you wanna be like right here. Here is a leader. Here is a guy that gives back; that makes everybody around him better because of his positive attitude and how he represents himself, his family, the Big 10 community, as well as his fine university Michigan State. There’s a guy right there that’s gone, he’s gonna do quite well whatever he decides to do. That’s just a case in point. I don’t talk about players. And I definitely don’t talk about players when they are current. But there is a young man right there who is talking about making the game better. Being a role model and doing things the right way. There is a young man right there, as I talk to young people. I talk to a lot of high school kids. I always go back over the last 4 years and say, When you get an opportunity, here is a young man right here that I want you to take a look at. Watch how he carries himself on the floor. Watch how the announcer talks about how he is trying to make people better. That’s making a difference in life and giving it back. So that’s what we all should be about. You learn something from those kinds of young people, even old people like myself.

Q: A gentleman came up to me and said Draymond Green is a great role model for African American kids. I told him he was an idiot. My sons are white. Why can’t he just be a great role model period?

A: Exactly. When I’m talking to kids, I’m talking to kids black, white, blue, green about somebody… You wanna see an athlete. We had in our school district a couple years ago…my school district, we have one of the top athletic programs in the state of Illinois...we had a young man here and we were trying to work with him. I said to him, I want you to just do something for me. I want you to watch a young man. We were really trying to work with him as a person, as a person. Someday you may say, I learned so much from watching this person. And he did. It was Green. Of course he said, Man he does carry himself well on the floor, everybody likes him, everybody talks about him. I said, Why do you think that is? Do you think that’s by accident? It’s because of the way that he behaves. The way…his great work ethic…he is that sixth man on the floor, that coach. How he gives to others and makes them better. That’s giving back. That’s what coaches and teachers are talking about in the classroom. So again, I didn’t mean to get off on my soapbox. I think every now and then we need to point out true role models and how that person or those individuals make a difference in all of our lives. That young man certainly…I see him as having been a role model for me.