As we embark on another high school basketball season, everyone will be concentrating on who will be the top players and top teams in the area.
There is another group of dedicated people who are also ready to get after it this season on the court. They are the referees. These good folks may not get a lot of recognition in general, unless it’s on the business end of loud vocal chatter from players, coaches and fans.
During my 30-plus years of covering area basketball, I’ve witnessed the proliferation of quality African-American officials in the game. They have grown in numbers since my playing days in the ‘80s and many have become good friends over the years.
As the high school season approached and before everyone started their busy schedules, veteran official Dorian Hobbs came up with a brilliant idea. He put out a call to African-American referees from around the area to gather together for a group photo.
More than 50 people answered the call and showed up at Normandy High on a late summer morning for the photo shoot. It was a beautiful gathering full of fellowship and togetherness, combined with a storied history. You had many sage officials who have seen it all along with the younger group that is just getting started in the game. They told stories and shared their experiences before gathering for a photo, which was taken by our Hall of Fame photographer Wiley Price.
The list of names was quite impressive with Edsel Bester, Marv Williams, Andy Miner, Jerry Hayes, Ed Crenshaw Jr, Ronnell Turner, Danita Moore, Jordan Wilson. That small list represented the different generations of African-American officiating excellence under one roof. It was a remarkable sight.
“It was such a great feeling to see all of us together like this,” Hobbs said. “It means so much that people can see us and recognize that we’re good at what we do. We have a lot of history and I watched a lot of these guys and they helped me as I was coming up.”
Those officials that Hobbs was referring to were men such as Williams, Bester and Wyndel Hill, Harvey Cloyd and the late John Eddy, who all put in more than 40 years with the whistle. These men were pioneers that helped paved the way for the many black referees who have followed.
“There weren’t too many of us working games at that particular time and it was hard,” said Bester, who has worked seven state tournament Final Fours as well as collegiate games in the MIAA before retiring. “Along with myself, we had Marvin Williams, John Eddy and Bob Beeks, who went on to work in the NFL. It was hard in the beginning, but we knew we were doing an important job. It’s fantastic to see all of these young officials working today.”
Marvin Williams, a 43-year veteran, has worked the games of all of my family members from myself and my sister in the 1980’s to my brother in the ‘90s to my nephews in the 2010’s. He’s seen it all during a career that has spanned five decades.
“It was tough when we first started because there weren’t many of us,” Williams said. “We had to go to some real hostile places, especially outside of St. Louis. It was really rough, but we had to handle it. There were times when we wondered if we would get out of the building.”
For Williams, those difficult early times were well worth it as he watched many talented men and women follow him and move up the ranks. Officials such as Ed Crenshaw Jr., a former University City basketball standout who is now a well-respected NCAA Division 1 referee. And women such as Danita Moore and Sara Woods, who do high-quality work.
It is also good to see the cycle continue as accomplished officials such as Crenshaw and Mark Halsell serve evaluators and mentors to the next wave of young referees.
“It’s fantastic when these young people tell me how much they appreciate what you did to help him,” Williams said. “It’s great to see how so many of them have moved up the ranks. They do it because they love the game.”