MERIDEN — Officiating basketball games is a family affair in the Wodarski household.
The father-and-son tandem of Steve and Ryan have been partners on every assignment this season.
Steve Wodarski is the athletic director at Wilcox Tech. He’s been an donning the black and white stripes for the New Haven Board of Approved Basketball Officials (Board 10) for the past 35 years.
His son Ryan, a 2016 UConn graduate, became a certified official during his time in Storrs, working under UConn Director of Recreation Bhavin Parekh.
“My dad suggested it,” Ryan Wodarski said. “I became an offical and it became a source of income for me while I was in college. I came home and learned a lot from my experience with my dad, in addition to the rule book and intramural experience at UConn.”
Prior to this winter, the Wodarskis had worked a half dozen times together. This season, amid the pandemic, they are working every game together for cohorting purposes. This past Monday, the Wodarskis worked the Lyman Hall-Sheehan rivalry game in Wallingford.
“It’s great for me to spend so much time with my son and we both are doing something we enjoy,” Steve Wodarski said.
In addition to officiating, Ryan Wodarski followed in his dad’s footsteps by entering a math-based field. The 26-year old, who lives in Hoboken, N.J., is an actuary analyst for United Healthcare. Steve Wodarski, along with being golf coach and athletic director at Wilcox Tech, teaches math.
Ryan took his father’s pre-calculus course as a junior. He called it “an experience.”
Ryan also played on his dad’s golf team before graduating from Wilcox in 2012.
While Ryan now lives and works in New Jersey, he comes back to Connecticut each winter to officiate basketball games.
“I started in Connecticut and have a few years under my belt, and I enjoy the camaraderie of the New Haven board,” Ryan Wodarski said. “It doesn’t interest me to start with a new board in Hoboken.”
The elder Wodarski is the rule interpreter for Board 10. He said he treats his son like any partner he’s had on the floor.
“At the beginning, when he first moved into the varsity role, I would look out for him,” Steve Wodarski said. “He’s earned his stripes and I don’t feel the need to look out for him in that respect anymore. He’s emerged as his own official.
“I don’t think I have to be in the position where I have to defend him anymore, but I feel I defend any young official that’s just starting out. I treat him the same way as any of my other partners over the last 35 years.”
The younger Wodarski said he’s certainly not given special treatment by his dad on the court.
“He’s a little more blunt than I am,” Ryan said. “If something happens in the first half we will sit down together at the half and say, ‘What the hell was that?’ I never thought he babied me or coddled me. If anything, he’s harder on me than other partners because he can say what he wants to his son.”
The Wodarskis control the game well and work well together. Ryan said the goal is to get every call right and, if your partner sees something you don’t, get the call right. He added, “There’s no room for egos.”
“I love it,” Steve Wodarski said. “I wouldn’t be doing this for 35 years if I didn’t. It’s a labor of love. We don’t do it for the money. The camaraderie is great and we build relationships with fellow officials, coaches and players. It keeps us in the game.
“And, besides, what else are you going to do on these winter nights?”
Once the pandemic is over, Connecticut high school basketball officials will go back to working with a variety of partners. The Wodarskis will return to the regular rotation as two of the 319 members of Board 10, which geographically extends north to south from Meriden to Milford and, west to east, from Waterbury to Westbrook.
That means Board 10 covers the Southern Connecticut Conference (with the exception of Fairfield Prep and Xavier home games), the Naugatuck Valley League, five schools in the Connecticut Technical Conference and several Shoreline Conference schools.
Once the pandemic is over, referees will also return to officiating in front of fans. Ryan Wodarski said he misses the crowds and that there’s nothing like officiating in front of a capacity crowd.
He added everyone is just happy to be back on the court again and he’s hearing much less chirping from players and coaches in the early going.
“The season is young and it’s only three games in, but it’s been an awesome experience to referee with your mentor and your own father,” Ryan said. “I don’t think too many kids are able to go through a similar experience to work so closely with their dad.”