Referee Crystal Hogan: The peace officer and basketball

LAKEWOOD, CA (News4usonline) – Crystal Hogan loves being a basketball referee. She also loves her day job as a parole agent. Officiating men’s basketball is one kind of passion for the former social worker. Working in the criminal justice system bring out another type of enthusiastic reaction from Hogan.

It’s all good because Hogan enjoys the benefits of being in the center of two different worlds. If Hogan had to pick one job over the other when it comes to which occupation she loves the most…that might be a toss-up. What’s for certain is that Hogan considers herself lucky she does not have to choose.

Yapping it up on the basketball court with an NBA star during a stop in play as she officiates a Drew League summer basketball game is one thing. Supervising felons is another. Not too many people get to try their hand successfully at multiple careers they pursue. In a universe of stark contrasts, Hogan relishes that she can eat cake and have her ice cream at the same time.

“I enjoy my job,” Hogan said. “When you love something, you make time for it. It just worked out for me. My daughter is in college now, so I kind of have extra time to focus on my passions. I’m going to do this until the wheels fall off. When I retire from law enforcement, hopefully, I will still be officiating men’s basketball.”

Drew League
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Drew League Commissioner Oris “Dino” Smiley (left), Crystal Hogan, Chaniel Smiley, and the voice of the Drew League, George Preciado. Courtesy photo

Hogan has worked as a parole agent for a decade. Her duration as a basketball referee is a stretch longer, clocking 17 years and running. When she’s not handling her business in law enforcement activities, Hogan is likely to be doing her basketball gig.

It’s a pretty nice gig. In 2018, Hogan added her name to future trivia questions by becoming the became the first woman to referee a men’s Division 1 college basketball game. This is a big deal. Hogan had already created a career roadmap in establishing herself as a basketball referee.

“I want to remain in men’s Division I (basketball) official,” said Hogan. “I don’t want to be considered just a female official. I am a basketball official.”

Hogan ziplined her successful referee pathway, calling games at the junior college, Division III, Division II, and finally Division I women’s college basketball level. Eventually, Hogan managed to cross that gender threshold when she was hired to work as a referee for the NBA’s G-League.

In this regard, Hogan has a predecessor who knocked down the trees in the NBA forest when it comes to working equality in the officiating game. Fellow Compton native Violet Palmer became the standard-bearer for women in officiating when she became the first woman to referee an NBA game.

Palmer had an extensive career in the NBA as a referee, ripping up the all-male NBA officiating barrier in 2006. She would retire from the league in 2016.

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Parole agent Crystal Hogan (center) with two of her law enforcement buddies. Courtesy photo

“She’s the queen,” Hogan said. “She made all of this possible for me to even come on the men’s side. She made it possible. She is the queen. She trained me. She and others trained me. Watching her growing up and working with her and working through the camps that they helped with the Drew League…she is the queen.”

It was Palmer who helped Hogan get her feet wet in the collegiate basketball big leagues when she brought her on to officiate games in the West Coast Conference.

“She gave me my first shot at women’s Division I basketball,” Hogan said. “She hired me for the West Coast Conference. I wasn’t working Division I anything, so she gave me my first shot.”

If she did not take another step in moving the equal opportunity chains, Hogan would have had already carved out a nice little resume highlighted with all her accomplishments. Hogan said she never thought she would be where she is today when it comes to her officiating career.

“I can remember when I first started with a three-man (officiating crew). It was a journey, but then when I look back, I’m like I did do all of this…x, y, and z, and worked my way up to where I am. It just all paid off. It was definitely a journey.”

Juggling dual high-profile professions, along with the tasks of motherhood, makes Hogan look like she’s Wonder Woman’s peer. A solid career in officiating has turned into a great one, thanks to a phone call that Hogan received from Bobby Dibler on August 15, 2018.

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Crystal Hogan in mother mode with her daughter Taylor, a student at Hampton University. Courtesy photo

Dibler, who oversees officiating crews in the Mountain West Conference, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference, Big Sky Conference, Western Athletic Conference, and West Coast Conference, gave Hogan a little bit more than some good news to chew on.

He offered her an opportunity to make history by requesting her services to officiate men’s Division I college basketball. Dibler’s call to Hogan hit her like a ton of bricks.

“I didn’t expect it,” Hogan said. “The referee world is very small…everybody talks. Everybody was like the 14th is the day that he makes his phone call, so the fourteenth, the fourteenth. And I said, ‘okay, the fourteenth. The fourteenth came and went. I said it’s okay. I’m still working. I got hired in men’s (college basketball) Division II by Verne Harris. I said, ‘I’m good. I’ll referee Division II, and then next year hopefully I’ll go back. But then when August 15th came and 102 came, I was like oh, my goodness. My thinking was he’ll hire you. He has six conferences. He may start you off slow and then…but when he invited me to work in all six of his conferences, I was floored. I think anybody would be. I did get emotional. I’m still trying to process it, and it’s been almost a year.”

According to the NCAA website, Dibler vividly recalls making that phone call to Hogan.

“I thought she was going to wreck her car. I said, `Crystal, just pull off.’ I know there were some tears coming from her eyes, and quite frankly, my eyes were a little watery,” Dibler said. “I wasn’t driving a car, so I didn’t have to pull over.”

Hogan’s pathway to her historical benchmark in collegiate sports was a gradual ascension up the ladder of personal and professional achievement. Her story also sounds a lot like a well-scripted fairytale. Hogan was a tomboy growing up. She hung out and played football with the fellas.

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Family time. Courtesy photo

Sports provided a great outlet for her as well as the local kids in her neighborhood.

“I didn’t start playing basketball until I was in the ninth grade, so I was a late bloomer,” said Hogan. “But when I did play, I played with the guys. I always played with the guys. I didn’t want to play with the girls. I was a tomboy as a kid, and I played football in the streets with the boys. I’m always geared towards playing with the guys.”

Playing sports as a youth helped Hogan become a multiple-sport athlete at Compton’s Dominguez High School. But while Hogan basked in an alternate reality that sports created for her and others in her neighborhood, she also had to face the hard knocks of street life in Compton.

“It was tough,” Hogan said. “It was tough seeing classmates pass away; people around me, in my neighborhood, pass away…just gang violence. It wasn’t the easiest. But sports…my high school coach (Albert Tuner), when I first started playing basketball in the ninth grade, he took all of us, and he changed our direction. If we were going this way…because we were in the gym so much, that moment in time is where I think led me in the right direction, just playing sports.”

With sports becoming an outlet for her, Hogan kept putting in the work, leaving Dominguez to move on Compton College, where she became a hotshot basketball player for the Tartars. Her roadmap to her current peace officer position was laid out when she picked up a criminal justice degree from Long Beach State. So now the best of both worlds came together for Hogan.

However, the bug for officiating didn’t come along for her until longtime mentor Kevin Cutler suggested to Hogan that if she was looking to make extra money on the side, officiating would be a quick and easy to do it. What started as a side hustle for Hogan has turned into a full-fledged job.

College referee Crystal Hogan
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Taylor (left), Oris “Dino” Smiley, and Crystal Hogan. Courtesy photo

“He was the one who introduced me to officiating,” Hogan said. “At first, it was, ‘Do you want to make some extra cash? You got your daughter. Do you want to make some extra cash? Start refereeing, because that’s what I’m doing.’ He was just doing high school and junior college at the time. That was 17 years ago. After that, it was more me going to different camps and stuff. He has been extremely instrumental. He’s kept me grounded and kept me focused.”

What has also kept Hogan humble all these years as a basketball referee is working her summer months at the Drew League, the renowned pro-am summer basketball league in South Los Angeles. If you want to pay your dues-both as an official and as a basketball player-the Drew League is where you will get your baptism-by-fire training. The faint of heart should not apply.

The Drew League is where the Alphas meet up with other Alphas. There is no backing down. It does not matter if you’re hometown heroes like Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Baron Davis, Nick Young or outsiders such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant. If you’re coming to play at the Drew League, you had better bring your hard hat with you. The same goes for the officials calling the games.

Grit, toughness and having heart are your best friends at the Drew League. Hogan carries a pedigree in all three attributes, thanks to her first-hand knowledge of street life and her work in law enforcement. Her warm, welcoming smile belies the tough interior she brings to the table as an official at the Drew League.

“If you can ref in the Drew League, you can ref anywhere,” said Hogan. “There are some players, they know the rules and they’ve been there for a long time, and they will question you on rules. Just being able to be receptive to them and the coaches and get criticism back and have a dialogue about how I missed a play or what I saw on the play, it has helped me, in the long run, to get better.”

The obvious question now for Hogan, who credits her daughter, Taylor, her mother, Sandra Matthews, and her late grandmother as well as Cutler, as stabilizing forces and as important cogs to her success, is will she take the next leap like Palmer into the NBA?

That would be a no, Hogan said.

“I enjoy college basketball,” Hogan said. “College basketball…I love college basketball. For me, it would be a huge chance. I am in law enforcement. I have been in law enforcement for ten years. I got a great retirement. I would have to leave all of that to take a chance on moving on to the NBA. I don’t think that I’m willing to take that chance. I rather do what I do. I Iove my job. I love my career and (love to) referee college basketball. The NBA…that time has come and gone. I’ll save that for the young bucks coming in.”

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