The next morning, I called the person who announced this and asked him, "Why aren't we nominating Jim? He's done everything. He's called District, Regional and many State Finals. He's a college official and done collegiate quarter, semi and a final." He cut me off, I'm guessing due to the fact that at the time, he was just a high school official and in this town, the deep south mentality was still alive and well. Don't mention that someone has more experience and is better qualified because they are a "college official" even though this means that they are more educated, better trained and have to answer to more than one chief. He told me, "BJ, you do it then, you fill out the paperwork. Oh and it needs to be done by tomorrow morning." Ok, fax me the papers was my response and I called Jim.
As I told Jim what I wanted to do, he was humbled. He couldn't believe it but I could hear in his voice he was proud. He began to tell me ALL that he had done which included what I had already known and MORE that I didn't know. It was painfully obvious that people who had won this nomination in the past didn't have HALF of his experience nor his skill. He was one of the few officials I looked up to because he lived by his own standards. He did the right thing by being a good referee on the court and a good man off the court.
It was because of Jim that I was able to be the first female to officiate the prestigious Christmas City of Palms Tournament in Fort Myers. Larry Bird was known to show up as were many other NBA scouts. I was able to officiate a game with Dwight Howard when he was still in school near Suwanee, GA and his shoulders were just as big then as they were now. Jim and Harvey (who I've blogged about in the past) were friends. They both saw "something" in me. They took me under their wings. I just hated that they were on the mens side and I was on the womens side. I can't help but think that if someone on the womens' side had taken me under their wings and mentored me like they did, that I would have been given a shot at Division 1. They always told me I had more balls then most the male officials they knew.
Jim was also my physical therapist. He had gotten me back on the court in less than six weeks after four different knee surgeries and one foot surgery. Not only was I back on the court, he'd have me running over twenty-five games for AAU nationals in one week. He was good. REALLY good at anything he did.
Recently I was able to walk the golf course that Jim used to live on. It made me happy to experience this because sometimes I would call him to get advice and he would answer and talk as he golfed on that course. Here he was still trying to help me as he was trying to just enjoy the sun, the breeze, the birds and a different game than basketball. But he still stopped and talked and listened. Always. He always answered his phone. Hardly ever, other than at work or only when he was on the basketball court would his your call go to voice mail.
He told stories upon stories about officiating. And when he quit, we had lunch. As I tried to convince him to come back, there was sadness in his voice but he knew it was time to make his last call. He was moving on with life. He had sold his business and was working for someone else again. He had picked up golf and felt he had gone as far as he would go. Unlike so many high school officials, he knew he had gained enough weight to say it wasn't doing the kids justice to not be able to keep up with him. I too followed his lead. The right thing to do is to know when you can't give your best anymore, don't do it. Go out on top.
And this is what Jim had done. He had gone to the banquet that year and won the Male Official of the Year. All because someone cared enough to fill out an application and fax it in within twenty-four hours. What a difference a day makes. What a difference a mentee makes. What a difference a mentor makes. Jim passed away last year in his late fifties. Doing what he loved to do...chasing a little white ball around a green golf course. Like he retired from basketball, he retired from life...going out on top.
The older I get, the better I used to be. ~ Lee Trevino