John's Journal: From Coaching To Officiating, Goring Stays In The Game
After Leading Apple Valley To Three State Titles, He’s Now Working With A Whistle
Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2024 - 5:11 PM
During Zach Goring’s days as the head boys basketball coach at Apple Valley High School, he blew a whistle all the time.
“I probably officiated every day in practice for 20 years, just not officially,” he said. “I always had a whistle in my hand and I was looking at plays, stopping plays.”
He’s doing the same thing now, but the coach whose teams played in four state championship games and won three titles – and whose rosters included three current NBA players -- is now blowing his whistle as a basketball official.
“It’s something I’m really enjoying,” he said during a little down time in a schedule that can include officiating assignments five days a week. He has already worked more than 90 games this season, with total assignments numbering 140 games by the time the season ends in March.
Goring, 47, isn’t certified to officiate high school varsity basketball, which is fine with him. He’s very content to work everything from elementary-age games to high school junior varsity and sophomore contests.
He and his wife Jill have two kids in high school; daughter Lexi is a junior on the Farmington varsity basketball team and son Ben plays on the Tigers ninth-grade team. When Zach resigned as the Apple Valley coach, he wrote in the announcement, “I’ve taken tremendous pride and joy in being a head coach at AVHS, but at this point in my life, I need to shift that focus and flexibility to my family.”
Goring was the head coach at Apple Valley for 11 years before stepping down after the 2017-18 season. With teams that included future NBA players Tyus Jones, Tre Jones and Gary Trent Jr., the Eagles won big-school state championships 2013, 2015 and 2017 and were state runner-up in 2018.
From the 2012-23 season through 2017-18, Apple Valley had a record of 175-14 overall. The Eagles played in two games that were televised by ESPN and won six South Suburban Conference championships, including league winning streaks of 51 and 42 games.
With five total state tournament appearances, Goring’s teams had an overall tourney record of 13-2, which is tied for the best in history along with Duane Baglien of Fergus Falls and Edina (1957-68) and John Carlson of Litchfield (200-2013).
Zach is a 1995 Apple Valley graduate who played college basketball at St. Cloud State. He operates a landscaping business, which means winter down time from lawn duties leaves opportunities for other endeavors.
“Most weeks I do games every Saturday and Sunday morning, usually four games at a travel tournament,” he said. “I’m off Tuesday and Friday nights to watch my kids play and every other night I’m going somewhere.”
He likes the timing of working lower-level high school games. He can go to a school, officiate a sophomore game at 4 p.m., and JV game at 5:30 and head out, sometimes stopping in to watch a varsity game and sometimes returning home to watch games involving the Gophers, Timberwolves or his trio of NBA players.
Tyus Jones, 27, plays for the Washington Wizards; Tre Jones, 24, is with the San Antonio Spurs; and Trent, 25, is with the Toronto Raptors. The Jones brothers graduated from Apple Valley before playing at Duke, and Trent played his final year of high school basketball at a prep school in California before also playing at Duke.
Goring, who first worked as a basketball official in November 2022, said, “That first time out there, my head was absolutely spinning. A year a half later, you’re comfortable. You know the spots you’re supposed to be in, you know the mechanics, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Zach has been working games with his son, which is a treat.
“We did three Saturdays of in-house basketball, and it’s something we can do together,” Zach said. “He’s getting 25 bucks an hour. We’re kind of introducing it to him, showing him something he can do as a lifelong hobby. It’s extra money, you can stay involved with the game, and it’s fun.”
When he took the plunge into officiating, other referees began mentioning Goring’s coaching career.
“I get that quite a bit,” he said. “At my first officials meeting, I knew a lot of them. They joked about me coming to the dark side and my comeback was, ‘You guys made it look easy, so here I am.’ That’s fun for me too. I enjoy talking about the kids we had there, Tyus and Tre, and some of those experiences we had.
“I also enjoy going to different schools and seeing how things operate, how they do things. Once upon a time, I was also a player, and it’s fun to see courts that I played on in 1995.”
A lifelong basketball fan, Goring said being able to officiate has helped him stay close to the game he loves. He didn’t want to miss his kids’ activities, and he can officiate without doing so.
“Reffing was really the only outlet I had to stay involved in basketball with those two in high school.”
He’s also recruited others to get involved in officiating. “I’ve started four or five friends, getting them involved,” he said. “They enjoy it, too. That’s been a win-win.”
One thing that has stood out in his officiating experience is how sportsmanship has improved. He has had very few negative interactions with parents, coaches or kids.
“The sportsmanship has really been great,” he said. “There’s been a pretty strong social media blast, with Thank A Ref. I wondered if people would yell at me.”
Goring doesn’t know if or when he might return to coaching. For now, while his kids are in high school, he’s focused on watching them play.
“And being an official is a perfect fit for me.”
--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]