It’s been a busy week for Clarence Armstrong, former Drexel University basketball star, who has kept an eye on his Dragons who were battling for the Colonial Athletic Association conference championship. Armstrong was pulling for Drexel to win the tournament, but the Dragons fell to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the championship game.
In addition to keeping up with his alma mater, Armstrong, who is one of the top college basketball officials in the Philadelphia area, had a pretty hectic time officiating two huge games. It’s been a big week of March Madness for him.
“I’ve been following Drexel,” Armstrong said. “It was a great season for them. They won 27 games. I sent Bruiser (Flint, Drexel head coach) a message. They lost a tough game to VCU in the championship. But I’m really proud of them. I’m just hoping they’ll get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I had a couple of big games to officiate this week. I did the Penn–Princeton game. Then, I had the Patriot League championship game between Bucknell and Lehigh. That’s a lot of college basketball.”
It’s that time of year for college basketball players, coaches, and officials. Armstrong knows that as well as anybody. He was a terrific basketball player. He was an All-Delaware County standout at Chichester High School where he had a brilliant scholastic career. Armstrong continued his stellar play at Drexel. He played for the Dragons from 1988 to 1992. He finished with 909 career points and 422 assists. Armstrong, an outstanding point guard, averaged 12.8 points a game his senior year.
He also played in the Sonny Hill League and the Charles Baker League. Armstrong lives in New Castle, Del. He does a lot of traveling with his job as a Division I basketball official. Officiating has allowed him to stay close to the game.
“It’s the best part time job in the world,” said Armstrong, who works as an IT consultant fulltime for a bank in Wilmington. “After I finished playing basketball, I actually tried my hand at coaching some AAU basketball. Then, I ran into my fraternity (Alpha Phi Alpha) brother Jeff Hill. He was in charge of the SEPTA Men’s League. He asked me if I was interested in (officiating) in the league. They were playing at Overbrook High School.
“For whatever reason, I caught the bug and enjoyed it. The next year, I got my PIAA certification. I started doing PIAA basketball 12 years ago. I did that and started officiating high school basketball in Delaware. Then, I just progressed from junior high school up to high school. I was fortunate to officiate two PIAA state championship games and two Delaware state championship games. I just went from there to Division III, Division II and now Division I.”
“It takes time. I like to think my situation is pretty unique. I moved a little faster than average because a lot of guys who were making the decisions at the high school level and even at the college level used to officiate my games when I played. So, they gave me opportunities a little faster than most. I also went to a lot of camps and officiated in a lot of different leagues. I even officiated in the 35 and over league at 25th and Diamond (Streets, Hank Gathers Recreation Center). That was like my training ground.”
Armstrong is in his fifth season as a Division I official. He works college basketball games in a number of conferences such as the Colonial Athletic Association, Big East Conference, Atlantic 10 Conference, Ivy League, Patriot League, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and MAC (Mid-American Conference).
Armstrong is one of the former local college basketball players who have gone into officiating. Jeffrey Clark, a Big 5 standout at Saint Joseph’s, has done a great job officiating Division I games over the years. Armstrong has learned a lot from working with Clark.
“Jeffrey Clark has been officiating for a while,” Armstrong said. “Jeff is a little ahead of me in terms of Division I basketball. But any time I have a question or need some advice I know where to go. Jeff is one of the first guys I call. He has a lot of experience.”
Armstrong plans to do some more officiating in March. He has worked the NIT the last three years. Armstrong hopes that other former players will move into officiating college basketball games in the future. The pay is good and the opportunities are there.
“I would like to see a lot of guys go into it,” he said. “You have to arrange your schedule especially if you work a 9-to-5. I think it’s a great opportunity for a lot of guys. It’s been a great experience for me.”