Fans who watched the Iowa women’s basketball game Thursday night saw Scott Fruehling in action.
If he was doing his job right, however, nobody noticed him.
As a top-tier referee in big-time college basketball, the Marion High School teacher and former coach is expected to keep games under control but otherwise stay out of the way of play.
Do no harm, the same as a doctor’s creed.
And, by the same token, make no mistakes.
“Officiating,” says the prime time practitioner, “is one of those professions where you’re supposed to start out perfect and then get better.”
It’s also an occupation that rarely lets him work close to home. The game at Iowa City was an exception. The night before, he was in Wyoming. And he was in Texas last Sunday. Another trip had him in New Mexico one day and New York the next.
“You get to see a lot of airports,” he says, “and ride in a lot of taxicabs.”
And, since he’s a full-time business and social studies teacher first, it often makes for a hectic schedule.
For last week’s Texas Christian assignment, he drove to St. Louis Sunday morning for a flight to Dallas, got back to St. Louis at 4 a.m. Monday, drove home and was in his classroom by 7:30.
Fruehling has 45 college women’s games on his docket this winter.
“The majority of them are on the weekends, so that’s usually not a problem,” he says. “Once in a while, I’ll have to use one of my personal days off from school. But that’s not often.”
He primarily works for six major Division I conferences: Big 10, Big 12, Missouri Valley, Summit, Atlantic 10 and Mountain West. So, his travel itinerary takes him coast-to-coast.
And since he worked the small college circuit early in his career, he still does a few of their games as well as a handful of area junior college men’s games. Some weeks, he might have as many as five jobs lined up; some weeks, just one.
A 1983 graduate of Kennedy High School, he was recruited for his first job by a teammate on the Mount Mercy College baseball team.
“I started out umpiring Babe Ruth baseball, and by my second year was doing high school varsity games.”
Not long after graduating from Mount Mercy in the spring of 1991 and before beginning his teaching career at Marion that fall, Fruehling earned a footnote in local baseball lore. With longtime athletic official and sports writer Bob “Scoop” Lana, he umpired the final home game of the final season when little Norway won the Class A state championship.
By that time, the novice whistle-blower was officiating a full slate of high school football and basketball as well as baseball. He soon moved up to small colleges in all three sports. And he was also coaching baseball and football at the high school.
Besides that, he’s been a part-time volunteer reserve officer with the Cedar Rapids Police Department for the past 17 years.
He eventually settled on refereeing only basketball, and in the summer of 1996 worked at camps around the country to catch the eye of major conference supervisors of officials. The first to hire him was Jim Bain of the Missouri Valley Conference, a scourge among some Hawkeye fanatics for an admitted missed call that famously sent Coach Lute Olson into hysterics. Bain even received death threats.
“He was a mentor to me,” Fruehling says. “I don’t know of a more fair-minded man.
“A great official, too. A legend, really. And in a good way.”
Following in those footsteps, he spent the first 10 years of his Division I duties with men’s basketball, adding the Big 12 and Mid-Continent leagues to his schedule.
Five years ago, he switched to the women’s side.
A divorced father of two daughters, Lauren, 11, and Leah, 7, he says he began to take more interest in girls sports.
“I enjoy different aspects of both the men’s and women’s games,” says the veteran official. “The speed of the game is a little different. And the men’s game is more vertical, while the women’s is more horizontal.
“But you have tremendous athletes in both at this level of the sport.”
He says former Linn-Mar prep Jamie Printy, for instance, is one of the best he’s ever seen. She led the Iowa women with 22 points Thursday as they outdueled Mississippi Valley State, 86-80.
Though there weren’t any dunks, the Hawks set a school record with 14 3-pointers (three by Printy) and the Devilettes connected on 11 from long-range.
Refs like Fruehling who know the game from all angles say while the men may score more from above the rim, the women sure know how to shoot from afar.
Either way, he says, “Basketball is still basketball.”
(Editor’s note: Scott and Tom Fruehling are not related.)
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