Meet the most hated family in New York City high school hoops.
Phil Sallustio has been a referee for 32-years. His sons, Phil and Steve, followed in his footsteps - facing scrutiny with every whistle, criticism with every play.
There is, perhaps, no trio more critiqued on the basketball court.
Phil is retiring after this season, but his legacy lives on in his kids. But the real question is: why would they want that?
“At first I would go to watch the players, watch the games,” Phil Jr. said. “But after a while, I would go and watch these guys referee. That’s how I got a liking to it.”
Last Tuesday at Fordham Prep, the Sallustios worked together – the first time a father and sons worked a three-man system ever in New York City.
“It’s a rare opportunity to get to ref with your father and your brother,” Steve said. “We obviously wanted to make sure we got the calls right, that we’re listening when the big guy has something to say or critique.”
Sitting in the wooden bleachers was Phil’s wife Debbie and daughter Dina, soaking in all the action.
“We are proud,” Debbie said. “I couldn’t wait for this to come all day. I shot down here from school, came with our camera equipment. We’re happy to see this happen.”
Phil Sallustio’s refereeing career coincided with Phil Jr’s birth. With Debbie staying at home with her newborn, Phil ventured out to make a few extra dollars. What he got in return was so much more.
“The friendships I’ve made I have for 32 years, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “That’s the fun part about being a referee. It’s more of a fraternity than anything else. The money is good, but the friendships are better.”
Phil estimates he’s officiated three or four thousand games over the course of three decades, including 10 CHSAA Class AA intersectional finals at Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym. His last, by choice, was the epic 2010 title game between Christ the King and Bishop Loughlin.
“I told John Letscher, who is the varsity assigner, I want to end it with this game,” Phil said. “It was an amazing game.”
While those lucky enough to be in attendance that afternoon will remember the Royals triple overtime win against rival Bishop Loughlin and the tremendous achievements by players from both teams, Phil said the game sticks out for him and fellow officials Tom Courtney and Bob Spence for another reason.
“We just had a triple overtime game in the city championship game, probably one of the most amazing games we’ve ever come across and not one player fouled out of the game,” he said. “We kept every player that day alive. That was the ultimate game.”
Phil, who turned 60 in December, realized this would be his last year, which made working with his two sons for the first time an even more special experience.
“I’m glad they were taking pictures of this because you’ll never see this again,” he told his sons in the locker room after the game.
As he prepared to take the court with his sons for the Rams non-league game against Bishop Ford, Phil became retrospective about his years as a CHSAA official, about the great players and even greater coaches. Although, he said, guys like Jack Curran, Tom Murray and John Carey weren’t the easiest coaches to deal with for a rookie official.
“The coaches are what make this league,” he said. “The coaches, the players, the discipline, it’s like a college atmosphere anytime you come into a high school gym. It’s the way they treat us. That’s why we work as hard as we can for these people.”
As for the toughest gym, that was an easy one for Phil. It’s the bandbox that is All Hallows in The Bronx. It’s where he took a rejection from Shawnelle Scott off his nose in a game between All Hallows and Cardinal Hayes. He ran to the scorer’s table to make the call, all the while trying to stop the blood from gushing out.
“That’s a great place,” he said. “It’s unique.”
Phil Jr also has a toughest court, but for other reasons.
“My toughest is Archbishop Stepinac because word gets around the crowd pretty quickly that I teach and coach baseball at Iona Prep and they’re huge rivals,” he said.
Steve said his was the old gym at Salesian “with the pillars in the middle of the court and the tight baselines,” he said.
“I was so thankful that I got a job at Salesian so I didn’t have to referee there anymore,” Steve joked.
While Phil didn’t know his sons would follow in his footsteps, it wasn’t much of a stretch. After all, they were going to games he officiated as soon as they could walk.
“I used to bring them to games and put them on the end of the bench to keep an eye on them,” Phil said.
Now he keeps an eye on them, but as an evaluator.
“I’m probably their toughest critic, as I was when they played baseball,” Phil said. “You always try to make them better.”
Like the players on the court, Phil and Steve have aspirations of eventually becoming Division I college officials as CHSAA referees like Ed Corbett and John Hughes before them.
“That’s the main goal,” Phil said. “Going to the camps in the summer, having a good, strong year. That’s really where you want to end up.”
For now, though, the Sallustios are enjoying working in the CHSAA. And they especially relished the opportunity to work together.
“The experience was phenomenal,” Phil said.
Contact Dylan Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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