HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Craig Bradley’s home for the last 44 years has been on the sidelines of basketball courts following in his father’s footsteps as an official.
“Anybody can do it if they’re willing to, if they can run, and if they’re willing to put in the effort that it takes,” said Bradley.
Bradley fondly relayed the stories from his extensive career as an official while proudly wearing the jacket emblazoned with the logo of the PIAA chapter named after his father, Paul Bradley, who inspired his career.
“My dad was the official that kind of got me started,” Bradley said.
Paul Bradley was a referee for basketball, baseball and softball throughout Craig’s childhood, even serving as an interpreter to teach others the craft of being a referee. This had an impression on Craig and when he started college at Clarion he decided to try reffing to make extra money.
The local PIAA referee chapter held its meetings on campus so it was easy for Bradley to become involved. Bradley enjoyed being able to explore the area around his college by visiting the surrounding school districts.
“I can still picture my very first game,” Bradley said. “I think my first year I did like six junior high games.”
After four years in the Clarion area chapter Bradley moved to Virginia where he continued officiating. His PIAA clearances translated to Virginia because they are tied with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). While in Virginia, Bradley began refereeing college basketball at the Division II level.
In 1993 Bradley came back to Pennsylvania and connected with the Central Pennsylvania PIAA chapter and began reffing Pennsylvania high school basketball games again along with college contests. Now Bradley is the PIAA District III rules interpreter for basketball just like his father was.
One of the highlights of Bradley’s career was getting the opportunity to work games with his father.
“I’ll never forget we were in DuBois once and they announced the officials — ‘referee Paul Bradley’ and ‘umpire Craig Bradley’ — and I’ll never forget the look on [this] kid’s face. He looked at him, he looked at me and he said, ‘Are you guys father and son?’. That was a pretty cool moment.”
Bradley used to call his father almost every night after reffing a game, even after his father stopped officiating, and share with his dad the details of the game. Bradley says that was an important way that he and his father connected.
“My mom told me later that he looked forward to those phone calls every day because even though he wasn’t officiating, he liked to hear the stories and be a part of it,” Bradley said.
Bradley was heavily involved in the school system, even outside of reffing. He was a math and science teacher in the Harrisburg school district for 27 years. He is retired from teaching now and splits his time as a referee with his job in the golf shop at the Hershey Country Club, where he’s worked for 20+ years, coaching golf at Elizabethtown College, watching his grandkids play sports and traveling with his wife.
Bradley believes reffing had a large part in his ability to stay fit and healthy.
“I’m 63 and I’m in good shape because of basketball,” Bradley said. “I get to go exercise and get paid for it. I get to watch young men and sometimes young women perform amazing activities. I get entertainment value, I get physical fitness out of it and I get the camaraderie.”
In between his busy schedule, Bradley golfs with his fellow referees.
The role has also helped him connect with his brother, brother-in-law and his nephew who all have spent some time officiating.
“We would connect and talk basketball all the time,” Bradley said. “Even though there was a big gap in distance between us, you always had that connection.”
That connection that Bradley feels with his family and his fellow referees is why he encourages people to get into officiating. There has been a referee shortage within the PIAA for about eight years and Craig speculates it has to do with people’s fear of being verbally abused and COVID, but noted there have been shortages in many workforces lately.
But for Craig, he can’t imagine not officiating.
“There are so many upsides to it that I don’t understand why people don’t [officiate],” Craig said.