When you've been a college basketball official for 16 years, you learn to deal with adversity, but for Lou Grillo, nothing yet has equaled the four days of anguish he experienced earlier this year.

In early January, the 39-year-old life-long District resident, was scheduled to fly to Knoxville, Tenn., officiate a University of Tennessee game, and fly back to Washington the next day. He was to return to Knoxville four days later for a second game, a routine he has often repeated as one of the nation's top collegiate whistle blowers.

But the trip was anything but routine. Grillo never made it home between games.

Instead, he spent his time in Atlanta, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa and had to overcome a snowstorm, a seizure suffered by a fellow referee, a closed interstate, cancelled flights and a precarious mountain drive.

After all this, it seems fair to ask: What would possess anyone to become an official?

For Grillo, the answer is as simple as deciding between an offensive foul and a defensive block.

"I'm a part of the event. I have a front row seat," Grillo said. "It's physical therapy and I'm still involved in basketball in the top amateur level in the world."

For Grillo, a graduate of Carroll High School, calling fouls is just a part-time job. Yet, he keeps an extensive schedule as a referee while sandwiching in time for his wife, two kids and his full-time position as the associate athletic director at his alma mater, Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md.

"I {officiate} as an avocation," he said. "I think we do a very good job as part-timers. If they made it full-time, I would go in a minute."

Make no mistakes about it, Grillo loves officiating. Admittedly, much of this stems from his passion for the game.

Grillo was an All-Met guard in 1965-66 and played for Mount St. Mary's from 1967-70. He is still among the Mountaineers' Top 10 in career scoring average (17.3) and career scoring (1,387 points) and, in 1981, was inducted into the school's hall of fame.

It was soon after the end of his collegiate career that Grillo decided to become an official.

He began on the bottom rung of the ladder in 1971, officiating CYO and boys' clubs games. From that point, Grillo moved up to junior varsity, then to varsity, and finally, made it to the college ranks in 1975.

By March 1987, Grillo had achieved one of the highest honors reserved for a college basketball official, refereeing the Syracuse-Providence Final Four battle in New Orleans. It was Grillo's second NCAA appearance, but in 1986, he refereed only the first round.

For the officials, the NCAA tournament works just as it does for the teams. The referees are scouted by committees at each tournament site and the best are picked to move on to the next round.

"Like a player, you have to have five perfect games to make it to the final," said Grillo, who is a member of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO). "You work hard to achieve that."

As would be expected, Grillo cites his Final Four appearance as a thrill, but he does not list it among his biggest. Surprisingly, his biggest thrill was a 1975 high school game between Eastern and Dunbar at the D.C. Armory, which featured John Duren, Craig Shelton and Rodney Wright. He also counts a 1985-86 game between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Georgia Tech at the Omni and last year's SEC final between LSU and Alabama.

As for future goals, Grillo cites the 1989 Pan American Games and the 1991 NCAA Finals. Why the 1991 NCAA Finals, you ask?

"That will be the centennial celebration of basketball," Grillo said. "I'll be there whether I'm reffing or not. That's going to be the biggest party."

Despite Grillo's bright personality, he takes officiating extremely seriously. He feels necessary qualities for a good official are 1) good physical condition and appearance, 2) success off the court, 3) good personality and strong character, 4) good judgement, 5) the ability to make quick, decisive calls and 7) a good sense of humor.

As would be expected, Grillo follows these guidelines religiously. It is obvious enough from looking at his 6-foot, 170-pound frame that he is in fine physical condition, but the quality that exudes from Grillo is his sense of humor.

Any sane person would have to have had a sense of humor to handle the now-infamous Knoxville trip.

The trouble began soon after Tennessee's 77-68 win over Mississippi on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Late that night, a snowstorm -- later called one of Tennessee's worst in 20 years -- pounded the area with a foot of snow.

Grillo's flight to Washington was to leave out of Atlanta -- 152 miles away -- and he was scheduled to work the Bowie State-Norfolk State game Thursday night. With his original flight cancelled, Grillo made reservations on a later flight. Arriving in Atlanta with fellow official Dave Jones late that afternoon, Grillo found that the snowstorm had turned into an ice storm, delaying and cancelling flights by the dozens. Realizing he was trapped in Atlanta, Grillo called and requested a substitution for the Bowie State game.

When Jones checked in with the SEC office, Grillo was asked to go to Tuscaloosa with him to referee the Alabama-Georgia game because one of the other officials scheduled to work was snowed in.

The 1 1/2 hour trip to Tuscaloosa took four hours through the snow. After the game, a third official, Charlie Vacca, joined Grillo and Jones, and they decided to try to drive back to Atlanta.

Grillo was driving through Birmingham when Vacca had a seizure in the back seat. Grillo pulled the car over and he and Jones tried to revive Vacca, who was not breathing and had blood flowing out of his mouth. After they pulled Vacca from the car and into the 20-degree cold, Grillo applied a few blows to the chest and finally, Vacca began breathing.

Grillo and Jones brought Vacca to a local hospital, and, after staying until the middle of the night, they continued their trip to Atlanta.

But 40 miles down Interstate 20, in Oxford, Ala., the interstate had been closed indefinetely, so the pair decided to check into a local motel, which they found suspiciously expensive.

"The hotel manager decided to make up a budget deficit," Grillo said. "He stuck it to us."

At 11:30 a.m., Grillo and Jones got tired of waiting for I-20 to be reopened and decided to take Route 78, an unsteady mountain road.

When they finally arrived in Atlanta at 4 p.m., Jones flew to Gainesville, Fla., to work another game and Grillo continued to try to get home. But, arriving at the ticket counter, he found he still couldn't get back to D.C.

"I was told I couldn't get back to Washington and the next gate said Knoxville," Grillo said. "So I bought a ticket and ended up Friday night where I'd started Wednesday afternoon."

Finally, at 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, Grillo arrived home.

One of the things that kept the official going during the nightmarish trip was the camaraderie between him and his partners.

"That's what keeps you going," Grillo said. "If these guys weren't friends and associates on the road, it wouldn't be worth it."

Grillo works between 35-40 games during the season. By contract, he referees for the SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference and also subs in Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic Association and Central Intercollegaite Athletic Association games.

Grillo finds little difficulty holding down both full-time and part-time jobs.

"{Officiating} does interfere, but not to the extent where it affects quality," he said.

One wonders how being an official can be so enjoyable, considering the abuse heaped upon the men in black and white by coaches and fans. To the referees, however, the fans and coaches are irrelevant.

"On every call, half the people are going to hate you, so you just block them out," Grillo said.

About coaches, he says: "There are some guys who seem to dislike refs, but my duties do not include being a popular guy. I'm not running for any office."

Grillo is also quick to dismiss what he feels are two myths about officiating: the existence of the hometown official and the make-up call.

"Sometimes, I don't even know who's playing," Grillo said. "I just know where I'm going and what time I'm supposed to be there."

About the make-up call, he adds: "Everybody looks for {the make-up call} and when they think they see it, they scream."

This is not to say referees are infallible.

"Sure, I've missed them," he said. "I've had enough guts to tell the coaches I've missed him."

Surprisingly, in his years as an official, Grillo has had very few problems of any sort. No serious run-ins with coaches, no overly abusive fans and no racial discrimination.

Presently, he has no plans of easing back on his officiating schedule.

"I'm proud to be 39 and able to run up and down the court with 20 year-olds," Grillo said proudly when asked how long he can continue at the current pace. "As long as my eyes and legs hold up. Then I'll become a coach."