By Ryan Lefever
Being a referee, you have to make the right call at the right time and for Harlan Gathright, making the call to get involved with Special Olympics Southern California was one that he would not challenge . Harlan has been officiating basketball for over 30 years, and the love and passion for basketball have not changed since day one.
Twenty-five years ago, Harlan was asked by a friend to simply volunteer for the Special Olympics, and one game was all it took.
Prior to officiating, Harlan tried playing the sport of basketball, but it didn’t seem right. Then he tried coaching a basketball team, and that still didn’t feel like his calling. Finally, the opportunity to become a referee appeared and he hasn’t turned back since.
“Seeing how the guys and gals right here compete and just really have fun and it’s more like supposed to be about because of the competition part of it,” Harlan said, reflecting back on the day.
Volunteering has changed Harlan by keeping things in perspective. “Often, we forget what things really all about are. Is it really about winning a game, or is it really about giving your best and competing and enjoying the camaraderie of it?”
For Harlan, there were some differences that he noticed from officiating high school to Special Olympics basketball. The high school level was more on the competitive side, and if one was to miss a lay-up or a free throw it was automatically their fault.
For Special Olympics athletes, all levels of competition are encouraged. Seeing an athlete happy and thankful for being able to compete “had a special place in my heart,” Harlan said, and the memory will stick with him for a lifetime.
After all the years of working with Special Olympics, Harlan’s favorite memory was an experience with a young man who wasn’t quite as gifted athletically.
“At the end of the play, just the fact that he could make it down the court and get the ball up, he wanted a hug and I mean, that just touched me,” said Harlan, who was initially shocked because it wasn’t about the game’s outcome, but just being on the court and enjoying life.
If Harlan were ever to encounter someone who was curious about volunteering, he would say: “Get ready for a great experience. You’re going to deal with people that appreciate you.”
Officiating is just one of the many ways volunteers can make an impact. Learn more about how to become a volunteer today.
Inside the SOSC is a blog managed by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.