For more than 30 years, John Messaglia’s side job as a referee had him calling personal fouls, three-second violations and double dribbles at basketball games. The Illinois High School Association recently inducted Messaglia inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame for outstanding achievement in basketball.
For more than 30 years, John Messaglia’s side job as a referee had him calling personal fouls, three-second violations, double dribbles and charging at basketball games.
The Illinois High School Association recently recognized him for his special talents and on May 4 Messaglia was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame for outstanding achievement in basketball.
Messaglia was nominated after he worked three state finals in 2014, 2016 and 2018 and reffed two championship games in 2016 and 2018. His mentor, Jim Tracy, a long-time high school basketball coach, nominated Messaglia for the award.
Messaglia, of Homewood, was a basketball player for Shepard High School, and played intramurals at Northern Illinois University. When he wasn’t playing, he would ref games.
He married and started a family, honed a job as a salesman and began reffing as a side income. He also coached when his four children were involved in Homewood baseball and softball, cheered for them at James Hart basketball games and served as the girls athletic director for St. Joseph Athletic Association.
Messaglia never quit basketball. He started with junior high and park district games. Over time he got better at his referee work and started serving in more games.
He’d go through training clinics and camps in the summer to “learn the proper mechanics, judgment, things like that,” he explained.
Over three decades, Messaglia moved up the ladder, taking on high school and college games. He’s been a referee for college games throughout the Chicago area, as well as South Bend, Indiana; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Davenport, Iowa.
“I started off because it was good extra money, but then I really got good at it and people said ‘You’re good. Keep at it.’ But the main reason I did it is because I liked the game,” he said.
Messaglia says the stories about referees taking insults are all true. He’s been taunted on many occasions and says parents are the worst “because they think you’re affecting their kid’s playing time or chance at a scholarship.”
He recalls refereeing high school games with Derrick Rose, now a National Basketball Association superstar, and Tyler Ulis, who played for Marian Catholic High School and went on to play for the Chicago Bulls.
His basketball schedule is filled from October through March, and in June he will be the referee for summer leagues. In addition, he’s now teaching at referee clinics.
“We’re losing young officials,” Messaglia said. “There’s a big shortage in IHSA and around the country. I’m mentoring people in their late 30s and into their 40s. They like the game, maybe their kids played and they still want to do this.”