The prolific British author, G.K. Chesterton, wrote that a true soldier fights not because he hates what’s in front of him, but because he loves what’s behind him.
It is this cherished selfless attitude that forges bravery into action and puts military and law enforcement personnel on guard to defend and protect us all that prompted the creators of “60 Seconds on Officiating” to put action behind their words of appreciation.
No one would attempt to compare the dangerous work of a soldier or police officer with that of a sports official. But referees and umpires tolerate the barrage of criticism that comes their way seemingly with every call, because sports officials love their game and understand they play a vital role in the performance of every contest that many people would not attempt to take on.
It is in recognition of the daily peril these brave men and women have signed on to perform that Billy Martin and Tim Malloy, the founders of REF 60, created a non-profit organization – The Zebra Foundation – that provides scholarships to introduce the protectors of our freedom and safety to the world of sports officiating.
The Zebra Foundation began its scholarship program in the 2015-16 basketball season and selected Bryant Petty of the United States Coast Guard to launch the Stars In Stripes referee training initiative.
Petty, a Machinery Technician 3rd Class who takes great pride in his ability to build and repair any type of engine, enjoyed the challenge of retooling his basketball skills from player to referee.
“It was a great experience,” said Petty from his USCG base in Cape May, NJ. “As a player, I never considered what it took to manage a game that involved very competitive players, coaches and sometimes spectators. But I have a new-found respect for the referees who do it well, and who make it look easy.”
Petty’s Stars In Stripes scholarship covered the cost of his registration and training with IAABO Board 196 and his uniform needs through Cliff Keen Athletics and All Sports Officials.
“The Zebra Foundation introduced me to another phase of the game I love,” stated Petty, “and will keep me in a competitive basketball setting as I wind down my playing days.”
The program has been an equally rewarding experience for its creators as well.
“We are strong believers in the fact that sports officiating has a great deal to offer those who step into the game and give it a try,” says Martin, “so Tim and I created a way to promote this great avocation of ours, while at the same time thank some people who make our lives safer and better everyday.”
What Martin and Malloy discovered is a natural overlap of skill sets and temperament among the good folks who put on a uniform and serve as a gatekeeper for a game, a community or a country.
“There is a competitive camaraderie among sports officials that I think appeals to people with military and law enforcement-related backgrounds,” said Malloy. “Referees and umpires need to think quickly and act confidently, often in heated situations, so it’s certainly a temperament that is refined in people who make a career of protecting and serving the public and their fellow citizens.”
The Zebra Foundation is a registered 501(c)3 organization served by a diverse and respected Board of Directors. One in particular challenged Martin and Malloy to think big if they were going to cast out a net of service.
“I asked Billy and Tim to stretch beyond their comfort zone of just basketball, and also to consider not limiting the program to just military people,” said John Gabriel, Director of Pro Scouting for the New York Knicks. “It’s because the program offers so much in the way of physical, emotional, financial and social support, that I wanted to get as many people as possible with a ‘service first’ mentality into the tent. We’ll figure out how to pay for the growth that is sure to follow the good works of the Zebra Foundation.”
Martin and Malloy agreed, and ‘the tent’ was expanded as a sincere and grateful gesture of gratitude for the people who choose to stand in harm’s way every day to protect and serve us all.
For more information about the Zebra Foundation, or to apply for a Star In Stripes scholarship, or to make a charitable donation in support of these efforts, please visit, ProjectZebra.org