LOCKHART — Umpires walk a fine line between keeping the game under control and being completely invisible.
They have to be on top of every play, but only be noticed when everyone looks to them for the call. Personality and ego must be left at the door with their street clothes.
When Weldon Rogers picked up a whistle for the first time 15 years ago, he wasn’t quite ready to accept those demands.
“The first game I reffed, I teched Sheri Jackson (then Sims girls basketball coach) three times in a row, just bam, bam, bam,” Rogers said, laughing. “Me and Tom Adamo were calling the game and Sheri was hollering, ‘Tom! He can’t do that, Tom!’ I guess they thought because I’m from Union County, I shouldn’t be throwing technical fouls like that but they had me wrong.”
Rogers was still a little rough around the edges back then, but as time wore on and with a little encouragement from his mentor, Mike “Brokearm” Cohen, Rogers developed into a distinguished official worthy of all-star accolades.
On March 20, he will be one of three striped shirts calling the North-South basketball game at North Myrtle Beach High School.
“I knew he had all the ingredients to be a good official,” Cohen said of Rogers. “That’s why I wanted him to understand that the best way to keep emotions down is to just keep the ball moving and don’t dwell on situations. When he first started, Weldon was quick to throw technicals on coaches. I’d say, ‘Walk away and give them a chance to get the second one.’ He realizes now that a technical foul is not always the best way to get their attention.”
It was a notion that took some getting used to for both Rogers and his partner in crime, fellow official, Adamo.
“Back then we had rabbit ears,” said Adamo. “We were ‘T’ing people up left and right, then we’d get phone calls from the league office — ‘What are y’all doing down there?’ When you first start, you hear everything and you have to learn to block stuff out and not take it personally.”
However, some things are a little more difficult to ignore. For instance, comments made by a passionate coach might be a little easier to shrug off than, say, flying objects that are hurled by unruly fans.
“We were calling a game in Pacolet one time and they didn’t like the way we were doing it, I guess,” said Adamo before cracking up. “The next thing I know Weldon got hit in the head with a Pepsi can!”
Rogers remembers the incident all too well.
“Yeah, me and Tom play good guy, bad guy when we ref together,” Rogers said. “Tom likes to be the good guy and he’ll come over and tell me, “Get on ’em.’”
But Rogers is trying to be a little more docile these days.
“Every coach has a mark-off list,” he said with a grin. “And if you make them mad too many times, they’ll blackball you.”
Rogers feels that he’s found his niche officiating on the hardwood, since he spent some time playing the sport himself.
“Once you get to be a certain age you can’t play anymore so you find a way to stay involved,” said Rogers. “They started me out reffing football. Back then you had to wear whatever the white hat official wore and he wanted to wear shorts in November and it was cold. So, Mike got me into basketball and I’ve done it ever since. He helped me out a lot and was a big influence. Still is.”
Cohen said he doesn’t expect Rogers to show shades of his younger days when he takes the court in North Myrtle next month. One reason, Cohen said, is because he will be up in the stands — keeping an eye on his protegee.
The main reason, though, is that over the years Weldon Rogers has mellowed out. Well, kind of.
“I learned that there are some things I just have to take,” he said with a smile. “But I’m not going to take too much.”