(MARYVILLE, Mo.) Officiating basketball is not a walk in the park, and a person has to be passionate about being a referee to stay in the game.
"I love it. You gotta love it."
Virgil Freeman has shown his love for the game by serving as an official for nearly four decades.
From junior varsity, to the MIAA, to the Big 8, Freeman has seen his fair share of basketball games.
"Basketball is basketball," Freeman said. "It's good in about any area you go to."
And he would know.
Many years ago, Freeman spent time as the football coach and principal at East Buchanan High School before moving all over the state as a high school administrator. During his travels, he found his niche on the hardwood.
"It has just been fantastic. I wouldn't trade anything," Freeman said looking back on the stops along his career. "I know I've had to probably talk to some coaches about slowing down and not getting excited, but the main reason I'm there is for the kids-- the young men and women that are playing basketball."
Throughout his years as a referee, Freeman has seen some of the best talent in the Midland Empire grow up to produce some of the best talent in the area.
A few of the coaches that he recalls from their playing days include Benton girls basketball coach Brett Goodwin, Lafayette boys coach Chris Neff, Central Athletic Director Neal Hook and Mid-Buchanan boys coach Bryce Kemper.
"What I see is the same thing I saw out of them as players, you knew they were going to be successful, and they are very successful," Freeman said. "Those are the things that you could really see as an official. These guys and gals were going to be super, and they are. They are really super."
But Freeman's done more than work on the court as a devoted official, he teaches future coaches and refs in the classroom.
He is in his tenth year at Northwest Missouri State University as a professor in the educational leadership department.
And his former students say Freeman's approach to his career rubbed off during their time at Northwest, including Corey Gilpin and Chaim Jenkins.
Gilpin, a King City native, has worked as a high school basketball official for the last eight years, six of which alongside Freeman.
"It's not about teaching from the book, it's not about doing this this way. It's about life lessons," Gilpin said of his colleagues' teaching style.
Jenkins also enjoyed his classes under Freeman in Maryville. Now filling the role as boys basketball coach at Northeast Nodaway, he works with his former professor on a regular basis at the gym.
Jenkins says it was the "real world" comparisons that made his classes memorable.
"He used a lot of life examples, 'this applies to that', and that was one of the things he was better with in the classroom. Relating things to the real world."
Freeman will continue molding future coaches and referees as retirement nears, but so far, fatigue is not slowing him down.
"If I can still run with the young guys, I think I can still officiate," Freeman said. "And so far I've been able to run with most of the young guys."
"He keeps up with me, and I'm 25," Gilpin said. "He does just fine with me, and I wouldn't want to go out on a night with him and try to keep up."
Freeman's showing that it just takes a little dedication to your craft-whether it's in the classroom or on the hardwood--to have a lasting career.