With a combined age of 143 years, Roy Mills and Bill Adamoski are considered the seasoned veterans among basketball referees for high school games in the province.
As a result, the retired educators are able to use their decades of experience to deliver crucial life lessons on the courts.
While Mills, 75, and Adamoski, 68, embrace their action-packed winter pastime, the men say behaviour on and around the hardcourt must improve to ensure there are enough officials when play resumes this fall.
"There is a critical shortage of referees and the main reason is verbal abuse. I am down 30 per cent," said Mills, who lives in Vegreville and is president of the Vegreville Basketball Officials Association (VBOA). "The younger referees get intimidated."
During the recent March playoffs, Mills, who has managed a roster of more than a dozen officials through the VBOA for 20 years, introduced a new pre-game routine where he stood at centre court before games at potentially difficult high school gyms to remind everyone there is zero tolerance for bad behaviour.
"I told them, "The players are going to play, the coaches are going to coach, the fans are going to cheer and the refs are going to ref. There is no crossing over," said Mills, adding he dreams of a day when such a pre-game speech isn't required.
Adamoski said, "I use tools to stop this behaviour, where starting referees are often shy to use them."
Mills, who is in the Alberta Schools Athletic Association Hall of Fame as an official, stresses the majority of teams are good, pointing to Viking, Glendon, Ashmont, St. Paul Regional, Hanna and Ryley as schools where refs are consistently treated with respect.
An honorary life member of the Alberta Basketball Officials Association who refereed his first basketball game in 1966 while attending high school in Lethbridge, Mills is surprised at his longevity as an official. He moved to Edmonton in the late 1970s, became a teacher and principal, and coached boys' and girls' basketball until 1996 before switching to officiating.
"I really enjoy teaching kids about the game. That's the biggest reward I get,' he said.
Adamoski, a retired teacher living in Edmonton, switched to refereeing in 1994 after coaching high school basketball for 18 years.
"I fell in love with reffing because I loved to run; loved basketball. Being involved keeps me feeling young at heart," he said.
Both men estimate they run about four to five kilometres during a typical 90-minute game. Adamoski, a former long-distance runner, says he drinks up to two bottles of electrolytes a game; for Mills it's about a litre and a half of water.
Referees receive between $45 and $60 a game and get 45 cents per km for mileage, with other expenses paid by the host school. For Mills and Adamoski, that means thousands of kilometres clocked on their older SUVs as they criss-cross central and eastern Alberta. Adamoski says he logged about 2,000 kms on his RAV 4 this season, driving a total of 2,000 km to 50 games, down from his usual 3,000 km and 75 games.
And Adamoski says accommodation for referees is as diverse as the towns they visit. He says motels aren't always available due to cost-cutting measures, so he's slept in a variety of spots, including schools and a coach's home.
"This past year I was given accommodations at a senior's lodge for a tournament. I was the talk of the lodge at breakfast on Saturday. Everyone thought I was a new resident," he said.
Mills, who also umpires baseball during the spring and summer months, says he has mulled retiring from the hard court but vows he won’t leave until the verbal abuse issue is resolved.
"I don't want to step down until this is fixed," he said.