LBHS grad is state boys basketball referee of the year
Liberty Bell High School graduate Tim Lewis has been named Boys Basketball Official of the Year by the Washington Officials Association (WOA).
Lewis, Liberty Bell 2013 and Washington State University 2018, seems to have been destined for a life of athletics early on. “I played baseball from Little League through sophomore year at Liberty Bell, ran the 800 and 1,600 meters in track my junior and senior years, and ran cross country from seventh grade through my senior year,” he said.
Lewis said he also “adored” basketball and football but couldn’t play those two sports in high school because he was “built lanky and awkward,” which made baseball a challenge as well.
“My ‘winter sport’ was Knowledge Bowl,” Lewis said, adding that it was fitting, since he has “always been enamored with the intellectual side of athletics.” His deepest passions, though, have always been basketball and baseball.
Lewis played sports but also took note of the officials.
“It’s hard not to notice the referees when your dad is one of them,” he said. Lewis’s father, Rick (who is, among other things, the sports writer for the Methow Valley News), refereed high school games when Lewis was growing up, and he often took his son along with him to games.
But if Rick planted the seed, it was young Lewis who grew it into a career. “Officiating was something I fell in love with very much on my own,” Lewis said.
Lewis clearly remembers the night he saw the path toward officiating. “My dad had a game at Tonasket one night during my freshman year of high school and we drove through Omak and picked up one of his partners, Marty Palmanteer,” he said. “On the ride up to Tonasket, Marty whips his head around unprompted and says, ‘Why the hell ain’t you doing this?’ I didn’t have an answer. There was a rush in my head.”
Two questions filled Lewis’s mind. “Yeah, why aren’t I reffing?” and “Wait, can I actually ref at this age?” It turns out he could, and the next winter Lewis started attending the Okanogan County Association’s initial trainings and began reffing in 2010.
“That was the moment that finally pulled the trigger,” he said of the interaction with Palmanteer, adding, “Marty was a kick. He passed in 2016 and every day that goes by I still wish he were here to bust my chops about stuff I was doing wrong on the court.”
Dream is born
Looking back now, though, Lewis said a seminal moment had occurred several years prior to that. “The dream was really born” on his first trip to the state Class B basketball tournaments. “I’d been to a couple of state 1A tournaments in the SunDome in Yakima, but in 2008 the Liberty Bell boys went on a tear and made it to the state semifinals on Friday night of the tournament. They ended up placing third on Saturday afternoon.”
“State B is a different event,” Lewis said. “The moment you walk into the Spokane Arena, you get chills everywhere. It climaxes with the fanfare before the championship games: the lights go out and the PA system gets turned up just a little louder.”
Palmanteer, who was officiating that tournament, was selected out of 12 officials to be one of the three in the championship game. Lewis said, “That championship game Marty officiated that night was a one-point game between Toutle Lake and Northwest Christian of Colbert. With a crowd of some four or five thousand, all that fanfare, and a back-and-forth barnburner of a game, that was the moment the dream of not just being a referee, but a damn good one, was born. That was the moment I began dreaming of being in a state championship game myself, as a referee.”
Although Lewis didn’t start officiating high school varsity games until his sophomore year in college, he had four years officiating under his belt at that point. In seasons six through eight he officiated district tournament games as well as regional matches in the preliminary round of the WIAA state basketball tournament. In his eighth season, Lewis took over as the vice president and trainer for SEWBOA, the Southeast Washington Basketball Officials Association.
Steve Simonson, who is the vice president of the WOA and has been a basketball referee for more than 40 years, cannot speak highly enough of Lewis. Simonson says he met Lewis at a summer basketball league in Cashmere about eight years ago and knew right away that Lewis was special. “I saw it in him then — he knew how to carry himself, how to conduct himself. He showed this potential very early.”
Simonson said that Lewis is somewhat unique in his dedication to high school sports. “Some of these younger referees have their eyes on college sports, and Division I, but Tim seems like he’s really rewarded by his work with high school sports,” Simonson said.
He added, “One of my career highlights was when we got to work a championship game together.”
Credit to parents
Lewis credits his family and his Methow Valley upbringing with his development as an official. “My parents both played significant roles. Mom wasn’t shy to let me know where she thought I did well … and [where I] could improve. Growing up my mom really was my best coach, although a thorn in my side sometimes during cross country season, but she invested more in challenging me than anyone,” Lewis said. “My dad was an outstanding teacher and brought me along to a certain point. Their greatest gift, both of them, but particularly my dad, was recognizing when to step back.”
“The freedom I’ve had to go after officiating and create my own path is why I’m where I am,” Lewis said, “and it’s thanks to two parents who allowed me the breathing room to do that.”
Lewis also expressed appreciation for the Methow Valley community for “raising me with the fundamentals that make me successful in this passion that I have and for supporting me in it.”
None of this is full-time work. (“Only the officials at the highest level — D1 collegiate and Professional Leagues — can do this full-time to pay the bills, and even most of them have day jobs as well,” Lewis said.) Lewis works seasonally in Archaeology and Recreation with the U.S. Forest Service, typically May through November, a creative use of the B.A. in history that he earned from WSU. But his winters are devoted to mentoring, training and officiating.
Simonson noted that Lewis’s contribution to sports officiating is both broad and deep. “He’s a referee, a recruiter, a teacher, a mentor. He not only officiates at basketball games, but he’s an official for football and baseball as well. He’s worked state football, state baseball, and state basketball finals. He’s just all-around outstanding.”
A fundamental understanding of the rules of each sport is essential, Simonson said, but “Certain attributes carry over. We’re really in the people business, and that skill set carries over. Tim is always deliberate, always professional. It’s one of the things that makes him such an exceptional official.”
“He’s even taking on some of my duties at the WOA,” Simonson said.
For a WOA conference that Simonson was unable to attend, he asked Lewis to assume his responsibilities. “He organized the entire basketball breakout session, including lining up speakers — everything,” he said. “Tim works tirelessly to improve himself and other officials. He is contributing so much statewide. He seems to have unlimited potential.”
Of the Boys Basketball Official of the Year award, Simonson said, “Tim is deserving of this recognition. He’s an exceptional official and an even better person.”
Sports officials work notoriously long and late hours, put tens of thousands of miles on their vehicles, and endure verbal abuse from parents, armchair quarterbacks, and anyone else whose opinion disagrees with an official’s call. So why does Lewis do it?
“As tough a time as it can be to be an official, it’s still the most fun thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “Sure, my goal is to be my best for the student athletes, but it’s more than that. A lot of us say that the best-officiated game is where you don’t notice the officials, but I disagree. Whether it’s a player or someone in the crowd, I want people to notice how much fun I’m having. It’s an unrealistic goal, but every night I want someone in the gym to see me and say, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”