SHINGLEHOUSE, Pa. — On March 4, Bill Howard prepared to officiate a basketball game like he had done many times before … except this one had a different feel.
The game between the Bradford and Northern Potter girls would be the final one for Howard in his 50-year officiating career. But what Howard didn’t know was that there was a pregame ceremony planned to honor him.
And surely enough, his wife of 25 years, Mindy, a Bradford High and Pitt-Bradford graduate, wanted to be there to witness the finale.
With restrictions on attendance due to COVID-19 in place, Howard asked Bradford athletic director Mike Erickson if he could secure a ticket for Mindy, and Erickson took care of it.
“Mike was good about getting me a ticket so that my wife could come and watch the presentation, so it was exciting for her and it was exciting for me, as well,” Howard said.
The ceremony highlighted Howard’s many contributions and accomplishments before he was presented a plaque by Erickson.
“I guess any time that you spend 50 years doing something, there’s got to be something special about your final game, your final day at work, whatever it happens to be,” Howard said. “I was certainly choked up by the award and everything that (Bradford Area School District Assistant Superintendent) Sam (Johnson) had said during his presentation, but it was almost kind of like a bittersweet moment for me.”
BRADFORD’S senior night win was the last ride in a hoops officiating career that began when Howard was a college student back in 1969 needing a few bucks.
Howard said the Shinglehouse area didn’t have many officials and he was offered the chance to referee junior varsity games for $15 a contest, which he did for a couple years before moving up the ranks.
“During that period of time, the varsity officials said, ‘Hey, look, as long as you’re doing this and you’re doing a good job at it, why don’t you just become a certified official?’” Howard said. “So it was that input and that incentive from the officials at the time that got me involved and I just continued to work at it, and little by little (and) got better and got better. I just developed a passion for it.”
Howard added, “It’s just something that somehow I became good at and I guess that’s a matter of who you ask, but I became good at it and I liked it and I just continued to grow as an official and started getting recognition district-wide and state-wide. it was just something that I enjoyed and it just grew from there.”
As Howard’s passion grew, so did his responsibilities.
Howard, whose full-time job was as an enforcement agent for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue for 35 years, became a certified official in New York State after about 15 years as a PIAA official.
He refereed girls games in New York State for 27 years. His contacts through New York led him to develop some friendships with the athletic director and basketball coaches at Houghton College. That’s how Howard broke into college basketball officiating, which he did for almost 40 years.
IN PENNSYLVANIA, Howard mostly officiated games in District 9, plus some in Districts 4, 6 and 10.
He also worked in several college conferences such as the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, Atlantic 10, American Mideast and the Empire 8.
“For about 35 or 40 years, I was working between 75 and 95 games a year, and it wasn’t like driving from Shinglehouse to Coudersport or Shinglehouse to Bradford or Shinglehouse to St. Marys to work at St. Marys Public or Elk County Catholic or wherever I might go, but I was going to places like Hornell, New York, I was going to places like Bath, New York, refereeing up there,” Howard said.
“But then in addition to that, I worked in 10 different college conferences, so I was going as far west as Cleveland, as far south as Frostburg, Maryland, as far east as New Jersey and up to Burlington, Vermont. So anywhere in that whole geographic area with the college conferences that I was affiliated with, I could work and did work many times because of the college games seven days a week.”
BUT officiating was never a full-time job for Howard.
His position as a revenue enforcer required him to travel regularly and that’s what kept him from trying to become a Division I official on a regular basis. But Howard was able to work things out and coordinate his college officiating schedule based on his work travel.
In addition to all of his duties as an official, Howard, who’s been the Oswayo Valley athletic director for 12 years, was the Pennsylvania chapter’s rules interpreter for 40 years and was a rules interpreter for 15 years in New York.
Howard’s other roles included a stint as a college evaluator and assignor for 10 years and co-founder and camp director of the Houghton College Officials Clinic for 16 years.
“We came up with this idea of having an officials camp,” Howard said. “It was working in coordination with Houghton’s team camp and what we did was we brought in officials to help train them, help them become better and the camp grew and grew and grew and our notoriety spread primarily in Western and Central New York and quite a lot here in Northwestern and North Central Pennsylvania.”
Howard has also served as the District 9 basketball rules interpreter and evaluator for the last six years.
THROUGH it all, Mindy has remained by Howard’s side to offer her unconditional love and support.
“People don’t realize how much a sports official has to give of their personal lives,” Howard said. “She always understood and without that kind of support it’s not worth it.”
The physical demands that come with being an official is why Howard is stepping away from it, but he will continue his officiating duties in track and volleyball.
There are, of course, a lot of memories Howard has made over the course of his 50-year run, one of which includes officiating a couple of games that the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant played in while he was in high school.
The reality of his officiating career being over has set in a bit for Howard since that last game on March 4, but he said it won’t fully hit until next season.
When looking back on his career, Howard is thankful for it all and will always treasure the memories that were made and friendships he’s developed.
“I just would have never had those friendships with people, whether it was in Austin or Ulysses or St. Marys or Clearfield,” Howard said. “I’ve made friends so many places with people that I just respect, and I may not be a socialite, but I am that type of person that I like to have friends and I developed tremendous friendships over the course of my career.”