Making the right call

Published on April 4, 2014

Alan Jankov has been scheduling the referees for every basketball game in

Pictou County for 42 years. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)

©Rosalie MacEachern photo

Alan Jankov still enjoys being involved in the local basketball circuit by working behind the scenes to make sure the courts are supplied with referees

            Alan Jankov, berry farmer and retired teacher, has a hand in every basketball game played in Pictou County.

            You won’t see him on either bench, he’s not at centre court anymore and he may not be in the stands but as co-coordinator of referees Jankov makes every game possible. That’s every elementary, junior high, high school and county team game – and he has been doing it for 42 years.

            Jankov grew up playing basketball in Bible Hill, holding down a guard position on school teams, at Nova Scotia Teachers’ College and in a Truro area senior league.

            “I came to Pictou County to teach physical education at Pictou Academy. My family had a cottage on Caribou Island so I knew the area,” he said.

            By the time Jankov and his wife, Gail, wanted to build a house and start a family the cottage was in poor repair. They could not afford a house and a cottage so they built a house on the cottage property.

            “There were no paved roads out here in those days. You didn’t get paid if you couldn’t get to school so sometimes I drove across the ice and sometimes I just had to walk the nine miles,” he said.

            Jankov’s  get-it-done attitude characterizes his approach to basketball scheduling.

            “Even with a last minute call, I never say no. I always try to find somebody,” he said.

            When he first took the co-coordinator’s position he said he’d do it for a year.

            “Schools were calling individual referees and booking them up for the season.  Other schools didn’t know who to call. We set up an association and later on we elected a co-coordinator.” 

            If you are picturing a fancy computer program that matches refs and games, you don’t know Jankov’s style. He has nothing against computers, but he relies on the telephone.

            “It helps that I know all the refs. I call them all twice on Sunday night. The first call is to see when they are available and the second is to tell them what games they have.”

            There are a dozen or so referees in the county right now, down from a peak of about 20. Many have been refereeing for decades but there are also a few younger recruits.

            “I don’t ever remember looking at the list and thinking I had plenty but I’ve always found people to take a few extra games when needed. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to have a few more, I’d love to, but we’re losing a lot of young people to work out west. It’s going to hurt us down the road.”   

            Common sense, more than strict adherence to all rules, is the key to making a good ref, according to Jankov.

            “It is a simple game and it has rules but discretion is the key. You don’t referee an elementary school game and high school provincials the same way. Our refs are excellent and they are out there because they like seeing the kids develop. You can make some money at it and it is a way of staying involved with the game.”

            One of the pivotal changes over the years has been the addition of female referees, said Jankov.

            “Judy Murray was our first. She didn’t have it easy in the beginning, not everybody liked the idea of a woman ref, but she had played and coached and she could handle it.”

            Providing a full slate of female refs for a girls’ high school tournament a few years ago is one accomplishment Jankov looks back on with pleasure.

            A highlight of his own years as a ref came when St. Francis Xavier coach Steve Konchalski asked him to referee a Blue and White game.

            “I was way over my head in many ways. I remember this American player, six foot God know what, towering over me, asking me what kind of call I just made.”

            Jankov says there is a tried and true rule about refs.

            “All refs are great refs when they give you the call you want.  That never changes.”

             Looking back over the years Jankov credits Anse MacDonald with developing basketball in the county.

            “Players, coaches, referees, we all owe a lot to Anse. He gave a lot to the game.’’

            The end of the traditional basketball schedule comes just before farm work gets underway for Jankov who, with his wife, began a commercial berry operation to provide work for their young daughters who now have nearly grown children of their own.

            “The berries taught them a great work ethic and it gave us a business we still enjoy.”

            Between basketball and farming Alan and Gail Jankov are regular visitors to seniors and nursing homes where he plays guitar and harmonica while she sings.

            Jankov is also a founding and active member of the Caribou and District Fire Department.

            “I gave up teaching for fulltime farming, but aside from that I’ve got no plans for giving anything up. Life’s about what you can do, not what you can get out of.”

- Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think should she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at