- Last Updated: 6:23 AM, May 18, 2012
- Posted: 2:20 AM, May 18, 2012
They are the human piñatas of the sports world, and that’s when they’re even recognized as human beings in the first place.
They are yelled at, screamed at, their families are insulted, their eyesight and their integrity are called into question almost every time they do their job.
On a good night, they go unnoticed.
Of course, we would have sports mayhem without refs, or officials, or whatever you want to call them. And man, they’ve been called some things that would make a crime-family hit man blush.
But those guys in blue or stripes also have hearts that beat, eyes that tear and families they love. When one of them hurts, they all hurt.
And right now, the college basketball officiating community is hurting big time.
One of their own, one of the best on the court and one of the most well-liked off the court — Joe DeMayo — has two sons whose lives have been crippled by kidney failure.
It has left DeMayo, who has done more for Philadelphia high school and Atlantic 10 basketball officiating than any ref, questioning his faith.
Why me? Why two sons? Why, God, why?
“We all have crosses to bear, I understand that,’’ DeMayo told The Post in an emotional interview. “But this has been hard for me and my family. Not one son, but two?’’
“I wonder, ‘Did I do something wrong in my life?’ Did I not treat people fairly?’’’ he added. “There has to be a reason, I think.’’
Sometimes there are no reasons, at least none mortals can understand. DeMayo knows this.
A ball bounces one way and one team celebrates while the other laments; a shot banks in from midcourt and the losing team becomes the winning team and vice versa; an official makes a call late in a game putting a player on the line and the fortunes of a game are decided.
Life is random, sometimes cruel in its randomness.
His son Mike, now 27, was diagnosed with a bladder reflux condition when he was 3 years old. It destroyed his kidneys.
Mike has undergone two kidney transplants. One of those kidneys came from his father. That one lasted 12 years until Mike was 16.
Another came from a total stranger that was killed in a car crash the same night DeMayo was working the A-10 championship game in Cincinnati. That kidney worked for 5 1/2 years.
He’s now on the donor list for a third time.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, Mike goes for dialysis. Some mornings he just doesn’t want to go. What kind of a life is this, he wonders?
Joe reminds him it’s a life.
But Joe’s life was shattered about three months ago. He and his wife, Dolores, who has never blown a call, had just returned from a vacation in Clearwater to watch the Phillies’ spring training.
He got a call.
His oldest son, Joey, 32, had been rushed to a Philadelphia hospital with kidney failure. Kidney failure? Again? Another son?
“They said it wasn’t genetic,’’ said DeMayo. “We tried to trace it. Nothing on my side. My wife’s side was a little harder to trace but nothing there from what we could tell. It’s got to be genetic, right? How else do you explain it?’’
You don’t explain it; can’t explain it.
You try to move forward, work the games, get the calls right, block out the idiots screaming you should die a horrible death because they’re certain that block was a charge.
Joe was holding up OK until he learned recently that his fellow zebras had established the Joseph DeMayo Kidney Fight Fund.
“I’ll tell you exactly what I thought,’’ DeMayo said. “As sad as this is, I realized how lucky I am to work with these guys, to be a college basketball ref. There are doctors and lawyers out there that do important things, but I wouldn’t change for a second.
“When we go out there, we’re a team,’’ DeMayo continued, his voice cracking. “We have the same goal: Let’s get out of this with no problems; let them [the fans] not even know we’re out there.’’
DeMayo is out there. He’s out there and he’s hurting. You can call him a bum, tell him he’s blind, ask him how much the opposing coach slipped in his pocket?
But when DeMayo takes off that striped shirt, he’s another guy with a family. If you don’t recognize that, maybe you’re the bum.
Joseph DeMayo Kidney Fight Fund,” 533 Vernon Road Springfield, PA 19064