Story By: Amanda Hart, GPAC Intern
Photo Provided By: Wells Family
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Two decades have passed since Brooks and Kirby Wells first began following their dad on his officiating trips. It didn't matter much if it was a school night or a weekend, Brooks and Kirby rode along. The thought of spending an entire evening at an event in which their parent will inevitably be screamed at throughout would probably seem unappealing to most kids - but Brooks and Kirby lived for those nights. To them their dad, Joe, was the best. Period. It didn't matter much to them if the crowd or the coaches or anyone, for that matter, was on Joe's case.
"I always thought he was right and they were wrong and they were dumb, anyways," Brooks admits now in thinking back on those days. "Dad (Joe) always told me, 'They paid their admission so they can yell whatever they want to yell."
Perhaps it's this, the ability to take something like the detestation of others and use it rather as a life lesson, which makes Joe Wells so special.
Joe, 54, is in his 38th year of refereeing basketball. Starting as a freshman in college, he worked his way up into the Nebraska-Intercollegiate (Iowa) Athletic Conference (NIAC, the present-day GPAC, since 2000) ranks. Now a veteran in the league, Joe is one of the most esteemed men in the business, a moral compass of officiating, if you will. And although he is extremely good at what he does, most who know Joe understand that the reputation he has earned during these 38 years has very little to do with making the right call. The communal respect between him, the players and the coaches, is key. Joe understands the hard work they put in, probably a result of his own personal experience with his two sons as athletes, and they appreciate that.
Brooks, 28, and Kirby, 23, often think back to those nights on the road with Dad, crediting much of their current identities as officials and educators, to the lessons they learned from their parents (their mom is a principal at Grand Island (Nebraska) High School). Brooks was quick to point out the importance of him mom (Cindy). According to Brooks, "my mom has been as important of a part of our officiating work just like our dad has, she always made sure our officials gear was clean and ready to go, and most importantly she put up with many nights of her husband and sons not being at home."
As much as officiating, educating is in their blood. Also there is a natural ability to build cognitive relationships with athletes and students, something the boys credit their parents for instilling in them.
Born and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska, the boys haven't strayed far from their roots, following in their father's footsteps in more ways than one.
Kirby, the youngest in the family, models after his father in his career choice as well, graduating from Hastings College in 2012 and becoming a special education teacher, just like Joe. Kirby had his first officiating gig in high school and continued doing high school games throughout college, often leaving baseball practice early in order to make it to the gym in time. In fact Kirby's college baseball coach Jim Boeve would schedule his bullpen practices around his high school refereeing schedule. Coach Boeve knew the importance that officiating had in the Wells' family, so instead of conflicting with it he embraced it. Kirby has moved up to working GPAC games now, despite the fact that he is barely older than most of the athletes in the conference.
Since graduating from Nebraska-Lincoln, Brooks has made a rapid progression through the officiating ranks, working the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Championship game last season in Branson, Missouri, at the College of the Ozarks in the first year of his contract at the NAIA annual event. A substitute teacher and sporting goods salesman, Brooks will tell you everything he does revolves around officiating, where his aspirations are high and his passion is virtually unmatchable. Brooks has begun to work a NCAA Division I schedule in recent years and works many nights in a week. Like his Dad, Brooks thrives on the hard work and success of the kids he gets the opportunity to work with.
On November 5th, 2013, Joe, Brooks and Kirby found themselves together in the same official's locker room at Bellevue University, set to call a game between the Bruins and Hastings College, Kirby's alma mater.
"It's rare and it's special", says Brooks, "to get to do what you love, with who you love." Before and since, the Wells' have been able to do a few GPAC games together, an opportunity they treasure each and every chance they get.
"The feeling of walking out there with those two, together, it's indescribable," says Joe.
The harsh reality when it comes to officials, regardless of sport, is that the general population's interpretation of them is often unjustly negative. The Wells' boys, however, have somehow managed to avoid this irrational stereotype. It's possible this is because the reputation of Joe has paved the way for Brooks and Kirby. Or, maybe, it's the lessons that Joe has instilled within the boys- the simplicity of building relationships and reciprocity of respect- that makes them naturally great. In either case, when one of the Wells' walks into a gym, you can be sure the game is in good hands.