These Refs Really Do Have GamePosted on January 13, 2009
By Keith Mills
Long before Dave Funk tossed up the first ball to start the annual neighborhood basketball showdown between Mount St. Joseph and Cardinal Gibbons last month, he was an All-Harford County baseball player at Bel Air High.
Long before Bill Warren called his first foul in the same game, he was the 1977 Defensive Player of the Year in soccer at Andover High.
Long before Ken Kazmarek officiated the Calvert Hall-Towson Catholic game two weeks ago, he was the highly successful basketball coach at Broadneck High in Cape St. Claire.
And long before George Pinchback officiated the Mount Carmel-Archbishop Curley MIAA B Conference showdown last Friday, he was a member of Gene Parker's powerhouse City College basketball teams in the early 1970s.
"I always thought I was good enough to play pro ball," Pinchback said. "When that fell through I was looking for some way to stay in the game. This was it."
"I actually started doing games when I was in 10th grade," Warren said. "My dad (Bill Warren Sr.) asked me if I'd like to call some kids' games at LF (the Linthicum-Ferndale Youth Athletic Association) and I've been doing it ever since."
That was 34 years ago. In 1981, Warren began officiating high school basketball in Anne Arundel and Baltimore County. He now serves as president of the Baltimore Metro Officials Association, an organization formed five years ago to work games for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Baltimore Catholic League.
A former baseball umpire and lacrosse referee, Warren is one of the state's premier soccer officials. Funk is the rules interpreter for the BMOA. Andy Underwood is the organization's vice president and Bob Preston the secretary/treasurer. Mike Malone assigns the games and is the driving force behind the group.
The BMOA is one of the most respected officiating boards in the state. Many of its members are former standout athletes and coaches who now officiate games as a way to stay involved and add their own vast experience to the high school sports landscape.
"I think we all are in it for the right reasons," Warren said. "A lot of us are former athletes or coaches and we really have developed some pretty good relationships with the players and coaches. I think they know we're in it for the right reasons."
"The staff Mike has put together is not worrying about being the show," said Funk, who first began officiating games in 1980. "We'll sit around before a game and say, 'No ego here tonight. If you have one, leave it in the locker room.' "
"I wish every coach in the country could experience what I've experienced the last four years," said Kazmarek, who joined the group in 2005 after winning nearly 300 games as coach at Broadneck. "If coaches could see the level of commitment and preparation these guys go through to be top-notch officials, I think it would change the relationship between coaches and officials, minimize some of the adversarial situations that arise. I see a completely different side of it now. A lot of these guys worked my games when I was coaching at Broadneck. I personally think it's the best group of officials in the state."
Malone and Warren's group now numbers more than 100, including longtime officials Brownie Arms, Dave Elliott and Sean Hull, who now work ACC, Big East and local college games. The group also includes nearly a dozen officials who were outstanding players or coaches in the Baltimore area, such as Dave Haugher, an outstanding player at Fort Hill High in Cumberland; Mike Margiotta, who grew up on Long Island and played basketball at Western Maryland College in the early 1980s; Dave Cross, Robbie Robinson, Pinchback, Brian Plunkett, Kazmarek, Funk and Warren.
The names make up a list of the finest players and coaches in area sports history.
Warren graduated in 1977 from Andover High, where he played soccer, basketball and baseball. His basketball coach was Dick Hart, a member of the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame, and his soccer coach was Steve Malone, a former president of the National Soccer Coaches Association.
In March 1976, Warren set a state basketball tournament record with 11 assists as teammate Steve Stielper scored 44 points to lead Andover to a win over Walter Johnson High School in the Class A state semifinals. The Archers eventually lost to Tyrone Shoulders, Mark Roussey and Aberdeen in the finals, but Warren's assist record stood for 23 years before Reggie Parker broke it in 1999 with 13 assists for North Dorchester.
In the fall of '76, Warren was the starting sweeper for Andover's soccer team when the Archers played Aberdeen in the Class A Region finals. The Eagles were led by Cal Ripken Jr., who Warren marked for most of the game.
Last month, Warren officiated a Gilman-Friends basketball game, a matchup that included Ryan Ripken, a freshman at Gilman and Cal's son.
"I was hoping to see him," said Warren, who bears a small resemblance to the Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop, "and say, 'Remember me?'"
Funk played third base for legendary coach Jack McCracken at Bel Air, earning All-Harford County honors in 1974 and '75. He played every inning of every game for four years at Salisbury State and became a Division III All-American and a member of the school's Hall of Fame.
In 1979 Funk signed with the Minnesota Twins, eventually reaching the high Class A team in Visalia, Calif., where he played for Tom Kelly, who would later manage Minnesota to World Series championships in 1987 and '91. His roommate in Visalia was future Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek.
Prior to signing with the Twins, Funk spent the summer of 1976 playing for the Johnny's New and Used Cars amateur powerhouse team, managed by Walter Youse and Bernie Walter. It was one of the best amateur teams in Baltimore ever assembled, featuring future Milwaukee Brewer Frankie Thomas of Polytechnic, and other former high school standouts such as Mark Jackman (Parkville), Duke Duncan (McDonogh), Mark Poehlman (Loyola), Neal Herrick (Arundel) and Frank Parreira (Arundel).
In 2002, Funk joined Paul Bernstorf's staff at St. Paul's, where he helped the Crusaders win back-to-back A Conference baseball championships in '02 and '03. He spent last year assisting Mike Bordick at Boys' Latin and was named the Lakers' head coach when Bordick and his family moved to Maine.
"I played for TK, Jack McCracken and Bernie Walter," Funk said. "When I talk to the kids I coach now, I tell them it's Tom Kelly or Jack McCracken talking, not me."
Six years ago, Funk married the former Nancy Blank, now in her 23rd year as women's basketball coach at Johns Hopkins University, who was unaware of just how much time, even part-time officials like her husband, devote to getting better as an official.
"Nancy thought they'd just show up for a paycheck," said Funk, who routinely officiates 25 high school and 25 college games a year. "She had no idea all the work that goes into getting better. How guys would spend 500 bucks to go to a camp in the summer to get better. That's what I love about Warren, Margiotta, Malone, a lot of the guys. It's not our game, it's the kids' game and we really do try and get the calls right."
In 1971 Pinchback was named to Street and Smith's high school basketball All-American team after his sophomore year at City College. Pinchback's coach at City was Parker and his coach at University of Baltimore was Frank Szymanski -- two big reasons why Pinchback was able to make the transition from player to official in 1980 when longtime Baltimore City referee Larry McCabe talked him into working local games. Eight years later, Pinchback was doing junior varsity basketball games in the city when he got his big break.
"Dunbar was playing Edmondson, and I was scheduled to do the JV game," Pinchback said. "Tom McCann was the president of our board and he was doing the varsity game but his partner didn't show up. He asked me to do it. The next day I had a varsity schedule and have been doing varsity games since."
When he began, Pinchback was tutored by longtime officials such as Delmar Harrod Sr., Larry Harrison Sr., McCann, William Vaughn and Joe Durham.
"When I started, I was skeptical at first because I was tough on the officials when I played," Pinchback said.
Pinchback, who retired in 2004, continues to work games and now instructs young officials who are looking to get into the profession, although he says he has one or two more years of high school games left in him. Among Pinchback's students are Sean Corbin, now in his 14th year of officiating in the NBA; Jess Thompson, who spent 10 years in the NBA; and Kazmarek, who joined Pinchback's applicant class four years ago.
"George was fantastic," Kazmarek said. "He really gave me a great foundation."
From 1975 to '78, Loyola-Blakefield won four straight BCL championships. Plunkett was a guard on the '75 and '76 championship squads, joining Robbie O'Connor, Pete Budko, Tony Guy, Bob Berry and Mark Clark to make Jerry Savage's Dons one of the best teams ever in local basketball.
Plunkett went on to play college basketball for coach Tom Finnegan at Washington College.
The first Baltimore Catholic League basketball tournament was held in 1972, and Chris Devlin was a member of the first All-Tournament team. A standout basketball and baseball player for Joe "Snooky" Binder, Devlin was joined on the first team that year by teammate Bob Welsh, Loyola's Morris Cannon, Mount St. Joe's Mark Rhode and Cardinal Gibbons' Clark Kearney.
He was later an assistant coach to Mark Amatucci on the 1981 Calvert Hall team that won the national championship and featured Pop Tubman, Mark Wilson, Paul and Darryle Edwards and future NBA standout Duane Ferrell.
"When I made the jump from coaching to officiating," said Kazmarek, "it was like two different worlds. The responsibility of every official is to call it fair for both teams and really let the focus be on the athletes. Coaches, though, only want what's best for their team and they really don't care about an equal playing field. They don't want officials to favor them, just make calls that favorably affect their team."
Like Warren, Kazmarek played for Hart at Andover High, and then played basketball at Anne Arundel Community College and Salisbury State College. He played one year of basketball for coach Ward Lambert at Salisbury and then coached the Sea Gulls junior varsity team.
In 1978, Kazmarek joined John Brady at Annapolis High. Brady was Hart's assistant at Andover when both Kazmarek and Warren played for the Archers in the 1970s. In 1983, Kazmarek was named basketball coach at the new Broadneck High, where he won 294 games and two region championships in 20 years.
Now he serves as athletic director at Broadneck and is one of the area's most-respected officials.
It was Warren who helped Kazmarek make the transition from coaching to officiating.
"I had just retired from coaching and Billy was doing one of our games," Kazmarek said. "He came into my office after the game and I mentioned to him that I was thinking about getting into officiating. He said Mike Malone had just started up a new group and suggested I take the classes. It was the perfect fit for me.
"The guys in this group have been unbelievable to me. And our focus is really on the athletes, the kids and letting them have a good experience."
Back in early December, Kazmarek officiated a scrimmage between Annapolis and Cardinal Gibbons. It was the first time Kazmarek worked a game involving Brady, his former coach and mentor. Warren was in the stands that day observing Kazmarek and also re-connecting with Brady, who is the winningest public school coach in history with more than 800 wins.
"Coach Brady was a big influence," said Warren, who was also mentored by such legendary officials as Stan Rote, Fred Hikel, Dave Kropfelder and Gunnar Haggerty. "I did a lot of his games when I was starting out and he would talk me up, saying I was doing a good job. That really helped. Mr. Hart, Coach Brady, and Steve Malone -- they gave you such expert lessons on the fundamentals of the game. They taught us the right way to play, and when I began doing games in high school I used a lot of what I learned from them to call the games."
"That was a big day for me," Kazmarek said. "John played a big part of who I was as a coach and I used to coach against him all the time. And to get back on the same floor with him in a different kind of a way was neat."
Issue 133: January 2009