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‘An amazing gig’

Warren grad Vega finds way to stick around high school hoops

From right, Kody Vega with longtime PIAA official LJ Frisina. Photo submitted to Times Observer

Kody Vega was a standout football and basketball player at Warren Area High School. He hadn’t attended his first class as a freshman at Mercyhurst University before he decided he couldn’t stay away from high school sports.

Vega became a PIAA basketball official.

“I wanted to really stay around sports,” said the 2022 WAHS graduate. “Since I did not go into playing collegiately, I needed to find a different way, and officiating is that.”

It’s a good part-time job for a college student.

“Middle school pays $83 for two games, freshmen ball pays $53, junior varsity pays $58, and varsity pays $77,” said Vega. “I started thinking seriously about it this past spring. I was just out of school and figured it was a perfect time to start. The process overall did not take too long. I had to complete a test of 100 questions and get a minimum score of 70. There were meetings involved; each official is required to go to a certain amount, and I started really working at it and learning more and more during a summer league I was given the opportunity to work. I have now done somewhere around 50-to-60 games this winter season, and I worked the fall junior high girls season as well.

“It is very, very strange to now be on the other side of the game,” said Vega. “I have already had to, with some of my partners who officiated me in high-school, apologize to them for how I treated them. I wish that I would have learned and known all of the rules I know now, when I was a player, because it would’ve been so useful. Many times I learned a rule when I was starting that I did not really know all the details to before beginning officiating.

“I have had one or two instances now that there has been ‘official error,’ which is very embarrassing,” added Vega. “However, sometimes you cannot correct them if not caught fast enough. On the flip side, upset coaches and parents happen with nearly every call and I have learned very early to just tune out everything except for the word ‘timeout.’ It takes a person who is willing to get yelled at over everything they say for a couple hours a night. But it also takes somebody that is calm and not easily aggravated.

“My biggest influence reffing has definitely been Tim LaVan,” said Vega. “He and Lisa (LaVan) both have been with me and helping me out since day one with taking the test.”

Not a bad couple of people to know with Lisa being head coach of the Warren girls basketball team and District 10 Committee member, and Tim the District 10 rules interpreter and an officials’ assigner, as well as officiating in District 9 and 10. He has officiated both boys’ and girls’ PIAA championship games.

“Kody has been dating my daughter, Emma, for several years,” said Tim. “Kody has had a few rough experiences and Lisa and I asked him to live with us since graduation. We have actually become closer since both of them graduated. Kody is a fine young man and is a responsible person with lots of character. Kody will be successful in whatever he ends up pursuing because of his passion for his goals.”

A good person and good player might not necessarily mean a good official, though, right?

“Kody is one of the top three young officials I have ever worked with,” said Tim. “His mechanics are solid and getting better each game. As many evaluators say, ‘Mechanics get you noticed.’ Kody watches more film of his and friends’ games than any first-year official I have known. Film is very accessible these days and Kody asks for it. Kody is also on a group text that a small, passionate group of officials send clips from games we had that evening and the night before. The texting usually starts soon after games end each night. Kody is a rare breed when it comes to his passion for officiating as young as he is. In fact, Emma says he is ‘like talking to a 50-year-old’ when he talks about officiating now. Kody now officiates six and sometimes seven days a week between elementary, junior high, JV, varsity, and CYO (Catholic Youth Organization).

“Kody brought up officiating basketball to Lisa last spring and she knew it would help him pay for college,” Tim said. “He officiated a few summer games when she had games set up for her league. We recommended Kody join the Erie Basketball Officials chapter because he would be a freshman at Mercyhurst University this year and geographically that would be best. The two sub-varsity (junior high and junior varsity) assignors in Erie have been great in helping Kody, and any young official, work games with experienced officials. Kody also worked games for me — I assign sub-varsity games in the Oil City area and varsity in Venango, Forest and Warren counties — over his Christmas break.

“I am extremely proud of Kody, not only in his officiating, but in his life,” said Tim. “He is a very responsible person who has become independent and responsible by what life has dealt him. He has a bright future and hopefully the officiating part of his life remains for many years to come.”

It isn’t normal to start out as young as Kody, but since the PIAA started the junior officials program in December, “we have 10 new officials in our chapter alone,” said Tim. “We have seven new female officials and almost doubled the number of female officials in D10.”

Kody appreciates the help, adding that Tim has gone as far as to shadow him during his first games officiating, all the way to phone calls after every game.

“I expect to do this for a long time, maybe a couple breaks along the way, but I really do enjoy this and would love to work up the rankings and continue to just better my ability with officiating every game,” said Vega. “There is a lot that I have already learned, but there is so much more left to learn.”

He has the respect of his former basketball coach.

“I am glad that Lisa and Tim have encouraged him to start doing this as I have no doubt that the passion he has displayed in the past for sports will lead him to be a successful official,” said Warren boys basketball coach Jeff Berdine. “Whether high school players want to believe it or not, coaches have players that fill certain roles, whether it be a scorer, rebounder, defender, or a hustler. Kody understood what roles he needed to fulfill for his team to be successful and excelled at them. He would simply outwork his opponent. I can honestly say in the years that Kody played in the Warren basketball program, I always got 100 percent from him, and not once did he ever put a uniform on and cheat himself, me as his coach, or his teammates by giving less than max effort.

“I have talked to Kody multiple times since he enrolled in his freshman year Mercyhurst University; the last time we spoke he talked about how much he was enjoying his time officiating and how much he has learned since his playing days a short while ago,” added Berdine. “He also noted that he thought it would’ve helped him some as a player.”

He also knows a little about football, being a first-team all-Region 5 high school linebacker.

“I do plan on taking my test to become a football official,” said Vega. “I would say football is my favorite sport. I like to think now that I understand the sport, but I’m sure I will very soon learn that I do not.

“Officiating is one way to be able to stay around sports that you love,” said Vega, “those being football and basketball for me. It keeps you busy, and if you do not mind driving, it’s an amazing gig.”

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