Just how long has he been a ref, anyway?
It’s a question uttered at many a high school basketball game when Shirl Williams takes the floor with a whistle in hand. The answer: 60 years!
In this his 61st season, he hadn’t planned to schedule any work but then agreed to serve on a back-up basis. He has called games on 12-15 nights, he said last Friday as he prepared to travel to Rural Special for another night of work.
Asked what keeps him going, he answered, “The kids. The kids are what’s most important to me.”
A 1957 graduate of Timbo High School, Williams was convinced to become certified as a referee by his coach, Carroll Ward. There has always been a shortage of referees, he noted, and he has called games throughout the region.
He rates a state tournament in Russellville one year as the most outstanding experience of his career, working with Norris Fox, who he said was “one of the top-notch officials in the state.” Several games went into overtime.
Referees worked in pairs until about 30 years ago when a third official was added for each game.
“It lets us older people work longer,” Williams said. “I’da been quit a long time ago.”
Most other referees he knows from his early years have already retired, as have most coaches. He said he has worked for a lot of outstanding coaches, one of whom is Charles Berry of Huntsville, who is still active in teaching/coaching after more than 50 years.
One of the most difficult things about the job has been driving to and from games. The farthest work he has accepted has been Clarksville, but one of the most challenging trips he can recall was driving back home to Marshall from the community of Deer on a foggy night.