Refereeing basketball has helped me keep Parkinson’s on the sidelines

Being on the court has taught me valuable lessons about adaptability

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by Doc Irish |

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When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, one of my fears was that I would have to stop refereeing basketball.

The game of basketball has been a big part of my life since childhood. Some of my best memories with my dad were with him coaching my youth teams. I’ve loved coaching and watching my kids play basketball through high school. Nine years ago, a buddy convinced me to join him and start officiating high school boys’ basketball. We advanced to men’s college Division III and Division II within a few years.

As the diagnosis settled in, I found myself grappling with the reality of Parkinson’s, especially its progressive and unpredictable nature. Questions about the future crowded my mind: Would I be able to continue doing the things I loved? Would my body betray me, forcing me into a sedentary existence?

Refereeing was one of those things I loved and the prospect of letting it go was disheartening. It wasn’t just about the game; it was about the camaraderie, the thrill of making split-second decisions, and the joy of contributing to the sport. Parkinson’s threatened to cast a shadow over this passion.

With the support of friends and family, I decided to persevere. Little did I know that this decision would become a cornerstone in my early fight against the disease. Refereeing, it turned out, was not just a pastime; it was a lifeline, a source of strength that helped me navigate the challenges that Parkinson’s threw my way.

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On the court, the fast-paced nature of basketball demands quick thinking and decisive action. Refereeing forced me to stay sharp, both mentally and physically. Parkinson’s might have slowed my movements, but it couldn’t dampen my spirit. Each game became a personal victory, a testament to my resilience in the face of adversity.

Moreover, the basketball community became an unexpected pillar of support. Fellow referees, coaches, and players rallied around me, offering encouragement and understanding. They didn’t treat me with kid gloves; instead, they embraced me as a colleague who happened to be battling Parkinson’s. The sense of belonging, being part of something larger than myself, injected a renewed sense of purpose into my life.

Refereeing also became a form of therapy. The rhythmic play-calling and the coordinated crew movements on the court became my way of asserting control over a body that sometimes felt like it had a mind of its own. The timing and attention required in officiating spilled over into my daily routine, helping me approach the symptoms of Parkinson’s with a determined and open mindset.

As I blew the whistle, signaling the start of a game, I was momentarily freed from the constraints of my disease. The court became my sanctuary, a place where I could set aside my worries and focus on the task at hand. In those moments, I wasn’t defined by my diagnosis; my actions on the court defined me.

Refereeing also taught me valuable lessons about adaptability. Just as in a basketball game where strategies evolve on the fly, I learned to adapt to the changing landscape of my own health. Some days were tougher than others, but I discovered that persistence and a positive attitude could make a significant difference.

In the grand scheme of life, basketball and refereeing may seem trivial. But for me, they have been lifelines, helping me not just live with Parkinson’s, but thrive despite it. With its squeaking sneakers and cheering fans, the court has become a metaphor for my resilience, a testament to the fact that life can still be a thrilling game worth playing, even in the face of adversity.

I’m now 36 months into my Parkinson’s diagnosis and I continue to adapt and evolve. I’m no longer part of the crew running on the court, I’m now part of the table crew, operating the shot clock. Even if the whistle is not in my mouth, as long as I am on the crew in some capacity, Parkinson’s will have to sit on the sidelines.

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.



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