Sandy Sanders and Rick Russell

Sandy Sanders, left, and Rick Russell have become familiar figures on the basketball court, officiating recreation league games around the Catonsville area. (Photo by Maggie Schorr / January 24, 2012)

They are the only two people on the basketball court that no one roots for during a game.

But Rick Russell and Sandy Sanders, who have been basketball referees for 30 years, don't mind.

"Rick and Sandy understand the mission of our league and care about the children," said Duncan McTaggart, chairman of the Catonsville Recreation Council's boys basketball program, in an email. "They are able to adapt their style of officiating to the competition level of each age group so that the boys get the most from the game.

"When a kid struggles to keep up with his peers, they will keep a special eye out for him. I have seen them go out of their way several times to make sure that a boy gets at least one point for a season," he wrote.

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"They get to know the boys by name and enjoy tracking their progress as they grow up," McTaggart wrote. "Sometimes, they will tell me stories about where kids are now that once played in our league."

Russell, an aerospace engineer by day, said he enjoys seeing players develop.

"I watch kids start to play at age 6 up to age 18," he said. "Now, I watch former players' kids on the court."

He started officiating in college and loves the game.

He has lived off Newburg Avenue for 26 years with his wife, Lydia. His three children are 27, 25 and 23.

During basketball season, Russell and Sanders are on the court five or six nights a week, officiating boys and girls in-house recreation and travel leagues in Catonsville and Arbutus, as well as the high school games for Baltimore County.

Spectators may recognize Russell as the official who spins the ball on one finger during time outs.

Sanders, an Arbutus native, played basketball at Lansdowne High in 1979 and for what was then Catonsville Community College from 1981 to 1982.

"I enjoy the interaction with the kids and the fans," said Sanders, an electrician with Blankenship Electric. "I try to teach kids life lessons during the game."

In addition to making calls on the court, the two men also make the calls for assigning officials to the games.

"One of the secrets to good officiating is 'controlling the gym' — keeping the parents from getting too intense and losing track of the games being a fun event for the kids of the community. Rick and Sandy do a great job of keep a light atmosphere that takes the edge off and keeps everyone at peace," McTaggart said in the email. "Many Catonsville families look forward to coming to the gym in Catonsville on a winter Saturday. Rick and Sandy are a big part of that."

Hi-tech way to check out books

Did you get a Kindle for Christmas?

Baltimore County Public Library offers free downloadable eBooks.

Follow the easy, step-by-step process at to download titles to a home PC, and then upload to an e-reader device, such as Nooks, Kindles, etc.

"There may be a long reserve list for new and popular eBook titles, just as there would be for our new and popular print titles," cautioned Catonsville Library Manager Melissa Gotsch in an email.