The N.C. High School Athletic Association said it has taken corrective action against one of its referees after he allegedly made a derogatory comment to a coach during a girls basketball game in December.
Mark Dreibelbis, the assistant commissioner of the association and its supervisor of officials, refused to disclose what action was taken because it was an internal matter.
But the association's commissioner, Davis Whitfield, said the case against referee Aaron Seay did not result in a suspension, and he is likely still working girls basketball games.
The association conducted an investigation after Seay told Middle Creek coach Wes Petty that he couldn't be scolded "by a girls coach."
"He really stressed 'girls coach,'" Petty said, saying it was apparent that the referee meant it as an insult.
Petty, assistant coach Billy Shipp, five players, Jake Hammer, the public address announcer, and this reporter all heard the remark.
It came during an injury timeout during the third quarter of the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational semifinals against Millbrook on Dec. 28. Petty was complaining about a call when Seay told Petty something to the effect of: "I won't be hollered at by a girls coach."
Dreibelbis disputes the account.
Dreibelbis said he determined that Seay did not mean to take a swipe at the coach, girls basketball or girls sports.
"That is not what he said," Dreibelbis said. "He said he was not going to listen to a girls assistant coach. He meant nothing derogatory in terms of referencing girls - he knows he made a mistake" in saying girls assistant.
"That has been corrected by this office," he continued. "We have followed up, and we have taken the necessary action. He did not mean that in any demeaning way, and that is my last comment."
Petty disagreed with the association's version as well as the intent. Petty said there was no reason for Seay to say "assistant" because he had not talked to the team's assistant coach at that point.
Seay, a Raleigh resident, did not return a handful of calls made over a four-day period to seek comment.
Preceding the incident, Petty said he was yelling about an uncalled traveling violation. That's when Seay approached Petty to tell him to stay inside the designated coaches' box along the sideline. While walking away from Petty, Seay allegedly made the verbal jab.
"He made the comment walking away from the huddle. It's not like he said it to any of our faces," Petty said. "My assistant has been with me a long time, and he feels the same way I do about the girls.
"He heard it and immediately questioned him on it, and while he's questioning him on it, the technical is called within seconds."
The technical foul gave Millbrook two free throws and forced the Middle Creek coaches to remain seated for the rest of the game.
Shipp, the assistant, said he felt compelled to defend his players.
"A couple of the kids on the bench looked and said, 'Did he just say that?'" Shipp recalled. "It was incredibly demeaning.
"I asked him, 'What do you mean, girls coach?' and he didn't respond," Shipp continued. "He just gave me a technical."
Hammer, a junior at Cary Academy, said he heard the comment from his seat at the scorer's table.
"I couldn't believe that he said something like that, being that he was also reffing a girls basketball game," Hammer said. "I don't honestly see anything wrong with being the coach of a girls team. It was just surprising that a referee would say something like that to the coach."
Middle Creek senior forward Amy Pittman said it was hard for her and her teammates to focus on the game afterward.
"It got in our heads too much," she said. "I don't think he should be reffing girls games if he doesn't take it that seriously."
Schools are asked to report any incidents with a referee - whether it concerns a questionable call or an official's behavior - to the high school athletic association.
Petty reported the incident to tournament director Bill Sewell, who then passed it along to Steve McNeill, a booking agent for referees.
McNeil would not comment on the action taken. But Middle Creek athletic director Lewis Owens said Seay has been blacklisted from working Middle Creek games.
Owens said he verbally reported the incident to the athletic association in the first week of January.
But Dreibelbis said the school had made no contact with him concerning the situation. He said he was alerted to the incident after The Cary News reported it earlier this month.
According to Dreibelbis, the school has yet to contact him about the incident.
A learning experience
Dreibelbis refused to even disclose the referee's name. But The Cary News found Seay's name written in the game's official scoring book.
The association would not discuss how it conducted its investigation or how it came to the conclusion about what the referee said to the coach.
"What was heard and what was said - there were two different opinions - and from that case I think if we have a clear distinction as to what happened, we'll approach that situation based on that fact," said Whitfield, the association's commissioner. "In this case, what we found is that there was nothing conclusive that would make us react to it in a way that would be detrimental."
The high school association offers clinics and training programs to its officials as well as correspondence and reminders on points of emphasis.
"Any comments that are made simply need to be related to the game," Whitfield said. "We don't want anything said to players, coaches, student-athletes, et cetera that can even be misconstrued as inappropriate ... we never want to put ourselves in that kind of position."
"We don't condone anything that could be portrayed as detrimental to any coach, any sport, any athlete whatsoever," he continued. "But I don't think [that was the intent] in this case, at least what I've learned."
Petty stands by his version.
"I have no reason to make this up," he said. "He definitely said 'girls coach.' ... He insulted everyone who was in the gym. Our girls work just as hard as the boys do and play just as hard and enjoy playing just as much.
"If that is the way he feels he shouldn't be calling a girls game. I personally don't think he should be calling any games."
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