Growing up, freshman Joy Cheek knew the importance of rules. No elbows on the table, no cookies before dinner.
And certainly no roughing the passer.
That was a 15-yard penalty.
For the last 11 years, Cheek's father, Boris Cheek, has served as an NFL field judge, spending fall weekends traveling around the country.
Last winter, Boris Cheek's weekend profession rubbed off on his daughter. Through the assistance of her AAU coach, Joy Cheek began refereeing children's Christian league basketball on Saturday afternoons in her hometown of Charlotte.
"It was really fun, but it was a job," she said. "You really had to make calls. The kids were into it."
Clad in a striped shirt and shiny black shoes, Joy showed up with a whistle around her neck, ready to handle the wrath of pre-pubescent ballers.
Working these games, Cheek said she learned more about the rules than she ever knew before. She finally figured out the ever-complicated backcourt violation rule and discovered a different set of technical foul violations.
She also learned that officials don't watch the ball at all times.
"You have a section of the court to look at, but the ball might not be in that section, and you still have to look for fouls," Cheek said. "I had a tendency to watch the ball, so I'd be missing fouls-kids pushing on the other side."
She added that this awareness has helped her own basketball game, which has gotten off to a solid start so far at Duke, averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
One of the quickest lessons Cheek learned about youth basketball is that the adults are the ones who often act the most like children.
"My dad jokes about it, 'Did the parents yell at you?'" she said. "Parents get really upset. Even for little kids, they really get into it.... You get yelled at sometimes, but you just laugh it off."
Her father should know.
As a parent, Boris Cheek is an intense fan, his daughter said. Many times, Joy said, he is the loud fan in the stands, getting on the officials, and she has to sneak him a look to tell him to quiet down.
"At [my] games, he was always trying to ref, even basketball games, he was always calling calls," Joy Cheek said. "Going to a football game with him is horrible. At high school football games, he'll always try to be making calls. It's horrible."
As an NFL official, Boris is on the other end of the jeers. Whatever town he visits, he said, the fans always consider him the enemy.
When Joy Cheek went on the road with her dad, she tuned out all the negative things people around her were saying. But sometimes, the heckling was simply too loud-or too personal.
"We could never go to Oakland," Joy said. "They would look in the programs and check the bios about [our family]."
Boris Cheek, who played college basketball at Morgan State, began his journey working in the Canadian Football League and has experience in NFL Europe. In his time with the NFL, Cheek has officiated several playoff games, including one NFC Championship game, but he is still waiting for the chance to officiate a Super Bowl.
"Hopefully he can get a Super Bowl this year," Joy Cheek said. "Hopefully I can go to the Super Bowl."
So with all her experience, watching the intensity her father puts into his work and experiencing the difficulty of making the right call, does Cheek sympathize with officials she meets on the court?
"Nope," she said with a chuckle.
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