As Paul Cooley looks back on his 50 years of officiating basketball, he simply puts it into perspective.
"I have gotten more out of it than I ever gave."
Listening to Cooley tell stories about the friendships he has formed on the hardwood and a few of the great memories he cherishes, it's hard hard to argue.
Last season at the Super Seniors All-Star girls' basketball game, Cooley was recognized at halftime for his 50 years of service.
"Fans are usually booing me, and I got a standing ovation," Cooley reflected. "It was pretty emotional. I had a tear in my eye and the start of the second half was a little tough."
Though rules have generally stayed the same over the last 50 years, Cooley noted the big difference is the speed of the game.
"When I started, no one pressed (defensively) unless you were behind with a couple minutes to go," he continued. "Now they do it from the beginning. These kids get faster all the time."
Another change Cooley noted is the coaching carousel as it seems like coaches are always changing at the high school level.
"I would hate to even think how many coaches I have been through," he laughed. "Some have stayed like Bob Winter at Clymer, Rich Clifford at Cassadaga Valley and Mel Swanson at Sherman. Sometimes you see a new coach every year or two. I would say (I have been through) several hundred."
Cooley almost gave up officiating after 45 years. That retirement lasted two weeks. When a pair of officials did not show for a middle school game, Cooley got a phone call from the late Kenny Blodgett, and Cooley quickly arrived.
"Kenny said you only have five more years til you hit 50," Cooley said. "I told Kenny I would stay on to hit 50. Then he died of prostate cancer. Kenny is the reason I kept at it. I owe my 50 years to Kenny. He was a good friend."
Cooley fondly remembers officiating high school basketball championship games at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo - including the time he had to get dressed in the basement next to some lions and elephants because the circus was being held at the arena the following day.
He can't forget about the time a coach's wife charged him after the game and tried hitting him with her purse.
During a playoff game a few years go, Cooley was getting harassed by unruly fans the entire game. When Cooley arrived home, he asked himself if he really wanted to continue officiating.
"The phone rang the next morning and it was a fan apologizing for the fans," he said. "She thanked me for what I gave the kids. It's been a good ride despite the bad moments."
And Cooley's biggest supporter has been his wife, Martha. The two have been married 57 years.
"Most officials wives won't go to games because of the things that are said and yelled," he said. "She has always stuck behind me. She was recognized five years ago for attending over 1,000 ballgames."
He also noted Martha keeps him grounded.
"I came out of Dunkirk one night and the coach was on me over a call," Cooley said with a chuckle. "On our way to the parking lot, I said, 'I don't know why he is so upset.' She said, 'Honey, I think he is right.' She keeps me where I ought to be."
Asked how much longer Cooley will officiate, he gave the same answer he gives every year.
"I always say this may be it," he concluded. "I don't know. The good lord blessed me with good health and my legs are good. I have been a fortunate person. The fact I never turned a game (down) because it was too far to travel is something I am proud of. I always tried to make my obligations. I never missed a game. It's been a good ride."