As Christmas approached, word came of the loss of another sports legend. Dick Enberg, who initially found fame as the voice of UCLA basketball, passed away last week at the age of 82.
Enberg would go on to be the voice of NBC Sports, broadcasting college basketball with Al McGuire and Billy Packer and the NFL with Merlin Olsen.
During my five years on the Notre Dame basketball bench, there were countless games where Enberg was just feet away, inevitably exclaiming — during an Irish run — his signature, “Oh my!”
Much like the coach to whom he was initially linked — John Wooden — Enberg’s greatest moments may have been in Los Angeles, but he launched his career in Indiana, announcing IU football and basketball games while a graduate student in Bloomington.
His legendary status highlights the fact that notoriety in sports comes to more than just those who play the games.
Broadcasters, coaches, athletic trainers, team physicians, sportswriters and referees also receive recognition for skill, success and longevity. Regardless of level — professional, college and high school, there seems to be no shortage of those who aspire to any of the above-listed vital roles — except high school referee.
At least that seems to be the case in the Calumet Region, where, with numbers already short, there has been a seeming legion of legendary losses in the last few years.
And without dedicated and skilled game officials, who enforce the rules consistently and fairly, the games are not as safe.
Ten months ago, long-time local football and basketball official John Goss passed away at the age of 67. I can still hear him shouting before a punt, extra point or field goal, “Stay off my center.” He was directing his words toward defensive linemen in an effort to protect the fairly defenseless long snapper.
Just more than a month ago, long-time football referee Bob Parker retired. I always looked forward to Parker officiating a game when I was on the sideline. I knew the first block below the waist of that particular game was likely the last. Parker flagged it every time and — at least that night — it would usually not be repeated.
Is somebody reading this column the next Goss or Parker?
“There is a great demand for officials in all sports,” Purdue Northwest athletic director Rick Costello said. “It is always great to see young people getting involved in officiating and giving back to the communities, athletes and athletics. Being an official is a very tough job. I once heard a quote that said, ‘Officiating is the only occupation in the world where the highest accolade is silence.’ I think that a lot of times fans, coaches and athletes expect the officials to be perfect and the reality is that the great officials aren’t perfect, but are usually consistent.”
Costello’s predecessor at PNW, John Friend, agreed. "What a nice part-time job officiating can be," he added. "Someone can stay busy every night of the week if he wants."
Lower level high school officials earn $45 for a basketball game, while those at the varsity level get $70. Graduate to the college level and get paid $170 in PNW’s old league, the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference of the NAIA, and $335 in the Pride’s new league, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference of NCAA Division II.