BC Basketball Officials

Brazosport College employees share passion for basketball officiating

Brazosport College employees share passion for basketball officiating

Fri Feb 14, 2020


Cliff O'Neal and Phil Robertson

Phil Robertson and Cliff O’Neal lead busy careers at Brazosport College. Robertson is one of the College’s most recognized representatives, as he’s been a counselor for more than 40 years. O’Neal has also put in plenty of time at BC, with more than 12 years of service as a biology professor.

But there’s much more to these two men than just their careers. They also love sports — especially basketball — and they’ve found a way to combine their love of teaching and working with the younger generation with their passion for hoops.

Between November and March every year, Robertson and O’Neal don black and white-striped shirts and head out to local high school gyms as basketball officials. In fact, both have been officiating games as long as they’ve been working at Brazosport College.

Just for the record, that’s a combined 52 years of experience on the hardwood.

No doubt, it makes for a busy life. In addition to their full-time schedules at BC, both men work games on Tuesday and Friday nights. Occasionally, they can be found officiating in different capacities during the weekends, as well.

“It’s all about a love for the game,” Robertson said. “I grew up with a love for basketball and this is a way I can stay in shape.”

O’Neal, who also officiates football in the fall, shares Robertson’s sentiments about the game.

“It’s a way to stay connected to it,” O’Neal said. “You run a lot, so it’s also a great way to stay in shape. But it’s mostly about being a part of the game and the camaraderie between all of us.”

Not surprisingly, both men come from an athletic background.

Robertson grew up in a basketball-crazed state — North Carolina, to be exact — and discovered a love for the sport at an early age. After moving to Texas, he coached athletics for Lake Jackson Intermediate before settling into his counseling position at BC.

O’Neal also grew up with a love of basketball.

“I played the sport through high school and it just gets into your blood,” O’Neal said. “I first tried officiating out of curiosity, but after a little while, the passion for the game comes back.”

Having positions at BC that require public interaction, Robertson and O’Neal are both occasionally recognized by college students. They also admit those interactions are almost always positive, which might seem a little surprising when considering the amount of controversy officials often encounter during games.

However, probably the best part of the job is when they see the young athletes grow into mature men or women with strong values years later.

“When all is said and done, you’ve given them your best and you see them building good character in life,” Robertson said. “They learn to adhere to rules and regulations, as well as the fact that there will always be winners and losers.

“There is no greater reward than to see them later in life and knowing you’ve helped along the way,” Robertson added. “This is a good way to give back.”

It doesn’t happen often, but Robertson and O’Neal have worked together a few times, and it’s an experience they’ve both enjoyed.

“It’s always fun working with Phil,” O’Neal said of Robertson. “When you’re on the court with someone with his experience, it makes it easier. I’m just along for the ride.”

While officiating is great for keeping in shape, the years of sprinting up and down the hardwood eventually begins to take its toll on the body.

At 68 years of age, Robertson, doesn’t plan to stop refereeing completely, but he does envision himself calling fewer games in the near future.

As for the 46-year-old O’Neal, he plans to be working in local gyms long into the future. However, he even admits that his body doesn’t recover as quickly as it once did.

“Officiating is a good way to get the stress out, but near the end of the season my body does start to get a little tired and the joints will begin hurting a little,” O’Neal said.

“I get older but the kids stay the same age,” he added with a laugh. “They’re still fast, but I slow down.”  

No matter the sport, officiating is a tough job. It requires tough skin, good conditioning and an incredible knowledge of the sport. For most referees, it’s also a part-time job and they don’t do it for the money. Rather, it’s because they love the sport, as well as working with the younger generation.

For Robertson and O’Neal, basketball officiating is a perfect supplement to their careers at Brazosport College.

“It’s a necessity for me so I can keep in shape,” Robertson said. “It’s a necessity to be who I am. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning with sore bones and ask myself why I keep doing it, but it’s the joy and the camaraderie.

“It’s fun,” he added. “It’s a way to give back and help others.”