Tommy Mattocks: Referees and officials led the way in race relations

Tommy Mattocks: Referees and officials led the way in race relations

While the country was divided by race years ago — and to some extent, still is — sports, including refereeing, led the way as a perfect example of how the races could get along.

You hear about the breakthrough firsts in sports such as Jackie Robinson or Charlie Scott, but you may not know or think about refereeing. When we stepped on the court, sometimes the only friend we had in the gym was our partner in that game. We sure did not have the time to be fighting each other.

When I took over as booking agent for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association in 1984, my job was to put the best referees in the games, not put an African-American or a white in the game. As I started evaluating, I looked around and 70 percent of my best officials with any experience were my African-American referees.

When I came in, I inherited Major Boyd, Robert Murphy, Sam Coefield and Ronnie Battle at the varsity level. I also had some very promising mid-level officials ready for their first varsity assignments such as Ernest Brown, Anthony Mitchell, Leo Lockhart, Preston Boone, Tyrone Holley and Richard Goldsby.

I also had some good junior varsity officials with a solid beginning background who soon advanced up the ladder, including Charles Kilpatrick, Sebron Dixon, James Moore and later, James Hodges.

On the white side, I inherited Joel Harris, J.C Reynolds, Toby McDaniel, Johnny Jones, Jimmy Rouse and Pete Wiggins. Later, we got Harold Lail and a few more to join but we were loaded with African-American officials and they made the local association. Without them, I would have fallen on my face. As I sat down to fill in the officials for basketball games, I was not assigning races, I was assigning referees and darn good ones with plenty of experience.

We never really had a racial problem because we all had a thankless job to do and we had each other’s back. Sports — including refereeing, umpiring and other officiating — does not have the barriers that society does and for that, I am thankful. It has even improved since 1984 as there are many more minority coaches and the leader of the NCHSAA is an African-American female, Que Tucker. Sports and refereeing has attempted to level the playing field for all races.

I would like to honor all the minority officials other than the ones listed above that came through my program by naming them; they all worked hard and spent a lot of time honing their officiating craft:

Dallas Best, Alton Brown, Garry Bryant, Charles Coward, Jeff Fields, Jeff Gooding, Germaine Graham, Donald Ingram, Anthony Loftin, Anthony McGleen, Stevie Parker, the late Willie Rouse, and the late Anthony Foster.

Thank you all for your service to make the games not about you, but for the kids as fair as possible.

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