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Sarasota baseball coach moonlights as basketball referee

Greg Mulhollen has learned a lot from the perspective shift.

Sarasota High baseball Coach Greg Mulhollen spends some of his free time working as an area basketball referee.
Sarasota High baseball Coach Greg Mulhollen spends some of his free time working as an area basketball referee.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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From November through January, Sarasota High baseball Coach Greg Mulhollen trades his cleats for squeaky sneakers. 

For the last seven years, Mulhollen — a physical education teacher at the school during the day — has spent his winter nights on the hardwood, dressed in a vertical-striped shirt and with a whistle hung from his neck. He's a basketball official, calling games between area high schools. And he does a lot of them: between six and eight games a week, Mulhollen, 44, said. The hobby makes his days long, but he has his reasons for doing it this long. 

He must, right? Because Mulhollen is a coach himself, he is well aware of the ire officials can face from coaches, players and fans during games. Yet he signed up for the job anyway. Most of the appeal at the time, Mulhollen said, was using the gig as built-in exercise. Mulhollen said he runs between one and two miles a game, depending on the game's pace. By the end, he is legitimately tired. 

"You're sprinting up and down the court," Mulhollen said. 

It helps too that Mulhollen is a genuine basketball fan and came into the gig with a good knowledge of the sport's rulebook. When he heard there was a shortage of referees in the area, it all made too much sense. 

What Mulhollen didn't expect, at the time, was how much doing his ref job would change his perspective on his coaching job. 

"It's given me a deeper level of patience," Mulhollen said. "And it's taught me not to challenge judgment calls. A foul in basketball, that's my judgment. I either think something's a foul or it's not. In baseball now, I try not to challenge ball and strike calls, or whether a baserunner was out at the plate or safe. That's totally the view of the umpire and they're not going to change the call regardless."

Mulhollen said he has a deeper level of respect for officials in all sports now, not just basketball and baseball. It takes conviction to make a call knowing one team will get mad at you for it, no matter what it is.

As a former Little League umpire myself (not to brag), I can confirm how thick-skinned an official needs to be. Officials also need to be knowledgeable, and though Mulhollen knew plenty of basketball's rules before starting the gig, there are still some calls that are rare, but he needs to be ready to whistle at a moment's notice, like double fouls (one on each team). In terms of judgment calls, Mulhollen has to make quite a few, like whether a defender's feet were moving or set on a block/charge call. And he has to make the call without hesitation. 

"If you're late, that's a bad look," Mulhollen said. "You just have to go with your gut." 

The more a referee prepares, the more comfortable a referee will be in those situations, and the biggest thing one can do to prepare is get in the correct position. That's where the running comes in, Mulhollen said; hustling is the expectation. 

Mulhollen said his favorite officiating experience was calling a game involving the IMG Academy National Team, which aired on ESPN. The court was dripping with NCAA Division I talent, Mulhollen said, and since then he's followed those athletes as they have transition to the college ranks. 

"Every play was at the rim," Mulhollen said. "There were multiple alley-oops. It was a pretty cool atmosphere." 

As much respect as Mulhollen has for baseball umpires, he won't ever become one. Not only is it tough with his high school baseball responsibilities, but Mulhollen said with how many people in the baseball community he knows, it would often feel like a conflict of interest. Plus, the exercise component of the job is not there. Standing at the plate for two and a half hours or more isn't exactly a sweat-starter. 

So Mulhollen will stick with basketball, and he'll continue to do it locally. Though he's done a few college-level games, Mulhollen said he has no aspirations of moving up the levels or making officiating his career. He got into the business in part because the area needed officiating help, and it still does, so he can't abandon it now. 

Now, if he has started this journey years earlier? Maybe that story would have a different ending. Mulhollen said he wishes he had started sooner, if only to see where that would have taken him. But he's also content where he is, and with whom he calls games. Mulhollen said the officiating community here is a tight-knit group, one with little ego, despite what some fans may think. 

"It's a great group of guys," Mulhollen said. "Their purpose is to call the best game they can for the players." 

If it is a group that you — yes, you reading this right now — are interested in joining, Mulhollen thinks you should get involved. Sarasota County always needs more officials, in more or less every sport, and at the high school and club levels. As the area continues to grow, more schools and club teams are going to be established, and the need for officials will grow. Why not get involved now? Yes, it is a thankless position to a degree, but Mulhollen thinks the internal benefit is worth the effort. 

"It's rewarding and satisfying to be in control of a game and make sure it is played fairly by both sides," Mulhollen said. "And it's great for building relationships. So if you're willing to run and blow a whistle, check it out." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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