PUTNAM — Love them or hate them, officials like Tim Snowden are as important to the game of basketball as the ball itself. Without them, there are no games.
Snowden, 58, of Putnam, is hanging up his whistle after 35 years in stripes around northern Illinois. He got to work his last game Saturday, March 9, as few official get to do — officiate the 1A boys state championship game in Peoria.
“That’s exactly the way I wanted to go out, on top. Who could ask for more than that?” said Snowden, who also worked the state finals in 2015. “It truly was an honor to get back down there on that floor.”
Snowden had a hard time keeping his emotions in check as he walked onto the Carver Arena floor to call the game won by Chicago Orr over Nashville.
“That’s (35 years) a long time, man. It’s been part of my life and to finally get to that pinnacle was great,” he said.
Snowden said it was good to be able to make amends of a call his crew made at state in 2015 when a team switched shooters for a free throw on a shot at the buzzer before halftime and went undetected.
“In our confusion if they got the shot off in time or not, the kids switched shooters and put the wrong kid at the line and the place went nuts, because everybody knew but us,” he said. “They replayed it (on the video board), but we are not allowed to watch replay in high school ball. So even though it was going on up above and we could have fixed it, we couldn’t.”
Over halftime, the crew checked their rule book and determined it was a correctable error they could make to start the second half. They took the points off the board and put the right player on the free throw line, then put the ball in play to start the third quarter.
“That left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like I did a horrible job in 2015, and to able to come back and rectify that and be able to get the championship in 1A, it’s unbelievable,” Snowden said.
Snowden learned of this year’s state assignment as he prepared to walk onto the floor for Bureau Valley’s 2A sectional semifinal at Riverdale.
“The wife of the guy I was working with (Dave Gilliland of Stockton) called and said the state assignments were out, so we got on our phones before we walked onto the floor and saw we were going,” Snowden said.
He was originally scheduled to work the 2A super-sectional at DeKalb with his pal Dave Shepard of Wyanet. When Bureau Valley, Shepard’s hometown team, punched their ticket to DeKalb, they were reassigned the 1A game to avoid any conflict of interest.
While he might fill in “here and there,” Snowden said he’s done full time and hanging up his whistle. While his heart may still be there, his body is telling him otherwise.
“I’m not taking any games. I gave up my partners,” he said. “My hips and knees are starting to hurt, so it’s time for me to hang it up. Thirty-five years was a great run.”
It’s time for a younger generation to take over, because many of the officials Snowden’s age are looking to get out. He encourages anyone interested in it to give it a try.
“We lose so many of them, because we’re getting so old,” he said. “The kids stay the same age and we just get a year older each time and a step slower and slower. That’s the nature of the beast. You get older and can’t keep up anymore.”
Though most would not even notice, Snowden said the state area floor is 10 feet longer than the normal high school floor and can wear on the older referees.
“It doesn’t seem like much, but it is,” he said. “We had Friday night’s game at 8 and had the second game Saturday morning. I’m telling you, my kegs were hurting. I was pooped and ready for that tournament to be done. But I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. It’s just an honor to be on that floor.”
Snowden won’t miss the cold cars and long trips on bad roads on winter nights, but he will miss the guys he’s worked with.
“I’m going to miss that Friday night and picking up Kenny and teasing him all the way there and all the way home,” he said of his longtime partner, Kenny Wilcoxen. “The camaraderie among officials and seeing guys at tournaments, I just loved that. At the state tournament, we’d get together, and talk about the good old days and stories and stuff people had done. It’s a just great time, great guys.”
Snowden said it’s “truly a brotherhood” among officials.
“If we don’t stand up for us, who’s going to? When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us,” he said.
Snowden, who can often be seen chatting with someone in the crowd at high school games, said he loved every part of the job, even the rowdy fans.
“I don’t mind that at all. Shucks, I don’t hear real good, so most of the times, I didn’t hear what they were saying anyway. I’d just laugh at them,” he said. “I never really had too much trouble.”
Snowden was just 23 when he started officiating and admittedly says he was terrible.
“I don’t mind to tell you, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had guys like Randy Rimington and Kenny who helped you a long the way,” he said. “You have bad games, and you have good games, they help you along. You have great times doing it. You make friendships for life.”