PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Last November 29th the Falmouth girls junior varsity basketball team was playing a preseason game at Westbrook high school when something unexpected happened.
Long time official Larry Moreau - who was working the game - suffered a heart attack, staggered towards midcourt and collapsed just before halftime.
Athletic trainer Anita Dixon sprang into action and, along with four college students there conducting internships, brought Moreau back to life using an automated external defibrillator.
"I felt like I was going to faint," said Moreau, who is now home recuperating after heart surgery. "It was just a quick second, boom, and the next thing I know I'm waking up with two firemen looking over me."
Moreau says he was trying to work his way back from a couple years' absence after undergoing knee surgery; and he was more concerned about his balky knee than he was about being out of game shape.
As it turns out, his doctor says he was lucky he collapsed where he did.
Moreau asked his doctor, "was that because I was running up and down the basketball court? And he said, 'no, this could have happened at any time.'"
"The heart was over working and not being able to pump the blood from one chamber to the other," Moreau explained.
On Friday January 15th, the opening night of action in the Eastern Maine Basketball Tournament at the Bangor Auditorium, history repeated itself, as another veteran official felt chest pains and removed himself from the game. He too was hospitalized after having a heart attack on the court.
"Our officials have always had to be trained well beyond the norm, so they are very prepared for what they are doing," stated Maine Basketball Commissioner, Peter Webb. "They have been there and done that, they've been exposed to pressure situations, and we are very pleased with the product we put on the floor."
Webb says officials are required to attend clinics, do extensive training and take exams each year before they can officiate basketball games. There are not, however, specific requirements that they meet any physical fitness standards.
"Not specifically," Webb said in response to a query about fitness requirements for officials. "It is a concern and it is in writing, and in requests, expectations, but not in and of itself other than them signing off that they are physically fit."
Pekka Paavonpera, who's daughter was on the court playing for Falmouth the night Larry Moreau collapsed, was shocked to learn that passing a fitness test is not mandatory for referees.
"I would have thought that one of the prerequisites for refereeing would be a medical check up and a physical check up," said Paavonpera. "Not only have you got the actual physical stress of running, but you have got to make those decisions, you've got the crowd yelling at you for bad decisions and so forth, so the pressure is enormous."
He says the situation deeply affected the kids and their parents in the stands.
"If he had died, I think some of these kids would have really had trouble handling it," he stated. "He was very fortunate that there were people there that were able to save his life that night."
In response to these close calls on the court, the YMCA of Southern Maine is looking to develop programming to help officials get into game shape before the school sports season starts.
"What we want to do is support those individuals who do give back to the community," explained Helen Breña, the Y's chief executive officer. "You know the overall cause of the Y is about strengthening the foundations of community. We see an opportunity here where we might be able to play a part in doing that by helping to support refs and umpires."
Breña says what they hope to do would help improve the conditioning of officials, while at the same time promote awareness of heart disease and conduct screenings to make sure officials are healthy enough for the rigors of the job.
"There may be people who are in really good shape, who don't realize they have a heart condition," she added.
The YMCA is reaching out to officials' associations with the goal of working together to create a program that will address their needs as well as fit into their schedules. She is hoping by working together, they can help prevent a tragedy from occurring.
If you would like more information, or would like to help get involved, you can contact Helen Breña by email: email@example.com.