Parasiliti: Even zebras need to earn their stripes

March 03, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

If you are looking for me at a high school basketball game, I’m not hard to find.

You can usually spot me sitting in a secluded, empty spot in the bleachers, away from the maddening crowds.

I’m probably wearing jeans and a fleece pullover that’s in one of 50 shades of gray. I’m not allowed to wear red, green, purple or blue because that would make me biased.

I try very hard not to drink anything with sour grapes as an ingredient.

And I like “zebras,” although bias prevents me from writing about or feeding them. They are an animal on a protected list.

This may sound like a attempt to create an online dating profile. In reality, it’s a disclaimer — like the guy reading at auctioneer speed at the end of a car commercial — to avoid any ramifications.

It’s all because I, for one, believe “zebras” are kind and benevolent creatures. They are well meaning and serve a very important purpose in the eco-chain known as a basketball court.

I like to believe the pace of that hardwood environment makes this species of whistleus bloweren rather color blind. I think its a difficult process to see what they see and play favorites in split-second timing.

And I emphatically say, without a doubt, they don’t have any bearing on who wins or loses 99 percent of the time.

But, still, a perfect “zebra” is as common as a unicorn.

By definition, “zebras” use their expert knowledge as instinct to rule the basketball kingdom in a fair manner. They are supposed to be Swiss — assertive without taking sides — while realizing that those decisions will only satisfy half the population, if they are lucky. Those opinions are usually driven by a team that’s losing or visiting a different zoo.

The life of a “zebra” is thankless, because it is stressful and requires poise and professionalism, all hallmarks for respect.

That brings us to that pesky 100th percentage point. While “zebras” may not decide outcomes, there are times they have an overbearingly large impact on it.

Yikes, stripes. One of those instances occurred on Thursday.

The Williamsport boys basketball team traveled to South Carroll for a Maryland Class 2A West quarterfinal game, which was populated with an eastern strain of “zebra.”

The Wildcats started better than the Cavaliers, scoring five early points while the hosts came up empty in their first nine possessions. Williamsport had everything going its way.

Quickly, in two minutes time, the entire complexion of the game changed.

First, Williamsport was whistled for two consecutive charging fouls. Those are calls that are purely “zebra” judgment and can look much different from the stands than on the floor, but seemed to be an inflated version of the rule.

Then, with 2:18 to go in the first quarter, a brush foul that placed a South Carroll shooter on his wallet after a 3-point attempt was followed by a technical foul on the Williamsport bench, which was protesting the call and the two earlier charges.

Suddenly, South Carroll — a team that had failed to convert anything in the first 5:42 of the game — had five foul shots which could have tied the game, all taken without any defensive pressure.

The Cavs only hit four of the five, but were back in the game. Scoring allowed South Carroll to start playing pressure defense, which they were unable to apply before scoring.

From that point, a more cautious Williamsport scored just four points in the last 10:18 of the half and trailed by nine at the intermission. The Wildcats put up a valiant effort in the second half, but desperation took the place of efficiency and ultimately ended their season.

For the record, I just crossed the line when it comes to printing anything about “zebras.” They love anonymity and prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Any criticism makes them bristle and bray.

And while they are an endangered species, it doesn’t mean they should be above reproach.

This situation is like airline travel. Everything is great until there is a crash. Then suddenly, the whole industry is inspected under a microscope.

Thursday’s game at South Carroll was one of the very rare occasions that the “zebras” didn’t blend into the background. It was so noticeable, even a few Cavalier followers — none owning vested interest in the outcome — noticed and commented on the unruly nature of the “zebras.”

The bottom line is Williamsport scored only one point in the second quarter and four in the fourth, which went a long way to deciding the game.

Teams and coaches all know that they have to adjust to the tone set by the “zebras.” Some demand a strict environment and others are playful. That is also part of the game.

The confrontational nature of a couple — not all — of the “zebras” in this instance didn’t decide the game, but did influence its outcome. It allowed one side to play aggressively, while forcing the other to become timid because it had no idea what was going to come next.

And that wasn’t the “fair manner” that defines “zebras.” That’s not to say South Carroll wouldn’t have won anyhow, but if the start was any indication, the game would have been played much differently.

I still wear gray and still like zebras. And like those Cavalier followers, I have no vested interest, so sour grapes haven’t been consumed to write this.

That’s because if you see me at a game, notice I’m not wearing stripes either.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at

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