The years, John Hollywood said, have sort of flown by. When pressed lightly on how many, he counted up the other night, and by golly, you know, this year marks two decades since he got involved with the Columbia Basketball Association. He started in 1983, coaching his two daughters. Now, at 58, Hollywood is still involved with the CBA, one of its longest-tenured volunteers. Involved. Oh, yes.
"Let's see," the longtime resident of Columbia's Oakland Mills village told a reporter seeking an interview, "I've got practice Wednesday night. Can't do it on Thursday. I'm refereeing two games Friday night and six more on Saturday."
He is also commissioner of the CBA's 14-team league for boys 8 and 9 years old. That means - starting with multiple phone calls nightly in August and September - lining up coaches and assistant coaches, drafting players, answering parents' questions, scheduling games, re- doing those schedules when snow closes the schools and figuring out seeding for playoffs when five or six teams are essentially equal.
He also has more evidence of the mounting years that few people in amateur sports can claim: Three Hollywood generations are involved this winter with the CBA. Daughter Jennifer Hollywood-Proctor coaches one of the 8-to-9-year-old boys' teams, and his grandson, Julian Palad, 9, plays on another.
By day, Hollywood teaches social studies at Hannah More School in Reisterstown. Never one to sit idle, he occupies many hours in warm, nonbasketball months umpiring softball in leagues throughout the county.
Refereeing basketball is his passion, but one he limits to the CBA -for nearly 60 games a winter.
He has deliberately stayed with the unsung job of working with young children, he said, "because I enjoy it. ... And I guess I'll continue doing it until I don't."
It is an avocation that has earned Hollywood a colorful reputation within the organization, to the point where he experiences the satisfaction of bumping into former players, now teen-agers or grown-ups, who remember him as "ref," if not always by name.
"He's one of the good guys," said Herb Nicholls, a CBA leader. "He's done just about everything for the club."
Ed Waldman, who coaches an 11-12 boys team, marveled at Hollywood's knack for remembering names of so many players, even though he does not coach them.
"I've known John for many, many years, and he's always been so committed to the positive development of children - he's a teacher," said Don Wallace, who heads the CBA's referees.
"John's a character," said a CBA rec-level commissioner, Tim Christian. "He'll sometimes stop a game just to explain to a player what he's doing wrong."
"Yeah," Hollywood said. "I don't do it all the time, but you blow the whistle on a kid who's 8 or 9, and they don't know why. So, I think it helps, especially if they're doing the same thing over and over, to show them why, for example, reaching in for the ball with the wrong arm is always going to be a foul."
His officiating philosophy crystallized in 1991, Hollywood said, watching Oakland Mills High's girls get called for a lot of "what I considered real cheap, reach-in fouls" that helped cost them a state basketball championship.
"That's when I really got on this thing about teaching the kids the fundamentals at an early age," he said, "so when they advance ... they're not going to make that kind of basic mistake."
Playing the game right, teaching - so important when teaching kids, said Hollywood, who learned basketball on Staten Island, N.Y., where he played at St. Peter's High School for Boys. He is in the Christian Brothers school's sports hall of fame, although at 19 an industrial accident permanently damaged his right arm, ending his playing days before he reached Seton Hall University.
For roughly the first half of his CBA involvement, Hollywood was a coach and referee for girls teams. Initially, his motivation was working with daughters Brigid and Jennifer. "I wanted to get them out of dance school - I hated going to dance recitals - and into sports," Hollywood said. "So I signed them up for basketball with the CBA and ended up coaching two teams, as well."
Recently, a woman told him that what her son, now grown, remembers most about living in Columbia was the referee who taught him about the game of basketball.
"You hear that kind of thing," Hollywood said, "and you know that you're having an impact."