Bob Kayajanian: The road to officiating greatness

(Photo courtesy of Bob Kayajanian) Bob (left) with trainee officials


By Jess Gonzalez,

February 26, 2024 – “All Roads Lead To Selland” says it all! Fresno’s Selland Arena is an annual end of season destination goal of the best high school boys’ and girls’ basketball teams in Central California.

There, in the gigantic—but ancient arena—the teams still standing in the playoffs play for their CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Section’s Divisional Championship! Selland is also where dreams come true or come crashing down.

That makes the Section Finals one of the biggest and most popular annual sporting events not only in our area—but in the state!

Yet, the finals at Selland go beyond the fight for championship trophies. It’s also about the thrill; the unique experience few people ever live. And it’s about wanting our area’s student athletes to feel what top college athletes live in the NCAA’s March Madness.

It’s about a man’s dream. While helping develop the concept of the Section Finals, one man who had lived the March Madness experience decided to mirror locally what he had seen and lived.

Because of him, Selland Arena lives its version of March Madness! That leads the teams that make it to Selland the last weekend of February thrive to play there even more in one of the 12 divisional section finals!

While he did not experience March Madness as a player, Bob Kayajanian was there—and he lived it!

Wearing his black and white striped shirt and black pants, he officiated in March Madness with the best officials in the country—because he was one of them!

This year—in the same manner he has done for nearly 20 years—Bob was the tournament director of Selland’s 12 Section Finals extravaganza.

And like in previous section finals, the feeling the student athletes lived was—big time! A respected Clovis resident, Bob utilizes his skills and vast experience as an organizer and administrator to help produce the exciting, highly entertaining, and well received event.

The Section Finals are organized by the CIF in conjunction with the Fresno County Office of Education. Brent Smither is event coordinator for the Fresno County Office of Education.

Bob’s officiating backstory

The road to organizing and overseeing the Section Finals is just one of the many ways Bob has influenced the development and growth of sports competition at all levels in Central California since the 1970s. He has done it through a step-by-step process.

His involvement in sports started early in life in Los Angeles; before fate intervened. While sliding into second base during a baseball game, he sustained an injury that required major surgery.

He was informed he would be restricted from physical activities for two years. However, the injury was much more serious. Eventually, it negated all his involvement in sports. Yet, Bob had an undying love of sports that wouldn’t keep him away from the playing fields.

In 1963, his family moved from Los Angeles to Fresno. Being unable able to participate in physical activities, his coach at the old Washington Jr. High—now the Ted C. Wills Center–had him umpire intramural games. That was his introduction to sports officiating.

Later, while attending Fresno High, the athletic director allowed him to officiate intramural sports during his junior and senior years. He liked it.

After high school, Bob enrolled at Fresno City College and took sports officiating classes. Becoming proficient in his new endeavor, he was hired by the Fresno Parks and Recreation Department to officiate youth flag football.

This led to joining the San Joaquin Valley Officials Association, SJVOA, as a baseball umpire in the spring of 1969. A year later, he also started officiating football and basketball. His officiating career was on its way!

Earning the stripes

Through an outstanding knowledge of sports, hard, and a knack for officiating, Bob moved up in the ranks of the top officials in the area. In 1972 he officiated his first varsity basketball game at San Joaquin Memorial High School.

Ironically, 30 years later–in 2002–the last game he ever officiated was also at San Joaquin Memorial. Along the way, Bob worked with people very well-known in Central Valley sports circles–Ollie Bidwell, Jerry Jury, Mike Orlich, and James Lenau, among others.

The better he got at officiating, the harder he worked. Soon he started attending college officials’ meetings.

Then, realizing area officials were being overlooked and not being promoted into the collegiate sports officiating ranks, Bob got together with fellow officials Jeff Hansen, Paul Anderson, and David Curschman and joined the Fer-mar collegiate officials’ group of San Jose.

Along the way he attended officiating camps and clinics—constantly improving his skills.

Aside from sports officiating, Bob attained degrees in Biological Science, Physical Education, and Athletic Administration, achieving a double-major degree in the last two.

In 1983, while working on his master thesis, he was informed about a thick envelope arriving in the mail from the Fer-mar group.

With much excitement and anticipation, he tore open the envelope and read the enclosed letter that had a column of the names of officials being assigned to work college football games.

But, in reading down the column but did not see his name. Disappointed, he called the friend who had alerted him about the envelope’s arrival and told him he had not been assigned any games.

His friend laughed and told him to look on the left side of the letter. There he read: Referee – Bob Kayajanian. His first officiating assignment at the college level was as the head man of the officiating crew! Such an achievement was, and continues to be, unheard of!

“My eyes glanced left and low and behold…there was my name. I was the Referee, Crew Chief. My first set of games I was in charge. I started to cry.”

Part 2: “the road to officiating greatness” continues in the next edition of Clovis Roundup