News Editor - Youngstown State University
John Clougherty knows all about March Madness.
A 1968 graduate of YSU, Clougherty’s 30-year career as a college basketball referee has put him at the center of some of the most memorable basketball games in NCAA history.
He was in Lexington, Ky., in 1985 when Rollie Massimino’s Villanova Wildcats beat the Georgetown Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing, for the NCAA basketball championship in one of the most historic upsets in college basketball history.
He was on the floor in the Seattle Kingdome in 1989 when Michigan beat Seton Hall, the first overtime in an NCAA final game in 26 years.
And he was in Indianapolis in the 1991 NCAA semi-finals when Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils upset the seemingly unbeatable UNLV Rebels of coach Jerry Tarkinian.
“It has been an incredible run,” Clougherty, 61, said from his home in Raleigh, N.C.
In all, Clougherty has refereed in 12 Final Fours and four NCAA championship games. In 1989, he received the James A. Naismith Award as the nation’s most outstanding collegiate basketball official. After officiating in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Atlanta March 10-13, he traveled to Oklahoma City to referee games in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament. He then was assigned to second round games in Albuquerque, N.M.
And to think it all started at YSU.
A native of suburban Pittsburgh, Clougherty transferred to then Youngstown University in 1964 from Michigan State University. In a course taught by YSU Hall of Fame golf coach Bill Carson, Clougherty learned about officiating basketball and started officiating YSU intramural games for $3 a game.
After graduating from YSU in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in health/physical education, he earned a master’s degree in education from Kent State University. He then accepted a teaching job at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C., where he got a license to officiate high school games.
In 1973, he moved into the college ranks, and two years later started working games in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Since then, he has officiated 70 to 80 games a year in nearly all of the nation’s major college basketball conferences, including the ACC, Southeastern Conference, the Big East, Big 12, Atlantic 10 and Conference USA.
“It’s a blast,” said Clougherty, who also owns a Honig’s store in North Carolina, which sells supplies for sports officials.
In his three decades wearing the stripes, Clougherty has shared the hardwood with some of the game’s best players, including Michael Jordan (“The best overall, all-round player I have seen.”), Akeem Olajuwon (“The best big guy. He was better than Ewing and Ralph Sampson.”) and Shaquille O’Neal (“A man among boys.”)
“It’s much harder now officiating a game,” he said. “At one time, it was more of an open, free-running game. Today, you have more physical, stronger kids. Every team wants to win the game in the weight room now.”
Keys to being a good referee? “There’s no substitute for experience, but you have to have good instincts and good reaction time,” he said. “This game is too fast. If you have to think too much, the game will run right by you.”
Printed with permission. Article appeared in Youngstown State University's YSUpdate.
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