Veteran referee scales back after 30+ years
When veteran basketball referee Rick Lewis put on the striped shirt last Friday evening for the Pateros vs. Waterville/Mansfield game, it was for one of the last times.
Lewis, who has been refereeing basketball games since the early 1980s, is taking a step back from a 30-plus year side career as a basketball official and member of the Okanogan County Basketball Officials Association (OCBOA). Although he intends to continue refereeing middle school games and training other officials, Lewis is retiring from officiating varsity games — after the current playoff season concludes.
Methow Valley residents will remember Lewis as “Ranger Rick,” the longtime manager of Pearrygin Lake State Park, where he spent 30 years. He has also been active and recognizable as a member of Winthrop Kiwanis and the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, as well as other community activities.
Lewis retired from Washington Parks in 2020, but things have hardly slowed down for him. He works part-time at The Cove Food Bank in Twisp, is the sports writer for the Methow Valley News, participates in many community events and has continued to referee basketball games around the region.
Lewis’s final regular-season game did not go unrecognized. When word circulated among other OCBOA referees that Lewis would be downsizing his court time, plans for a slam-dunk exit were set in motion.
When Lewis arrived in Pateros on Friday, he was told that one of the other referees was unable to fulfill his duties, so a guest referee had been secured. The nearly unflappable Lewis rolled with the unexpected substitution, only to learn that his guest referee would be none other than his son Tim Lewis (who lives in the Spokane area).
Tim, who began refereeing with the OCBOA as a sophomore in high school, was inspired by his father’s and other regional referees’ examples, despite having never been a basketball player himself. A 2013 graduate of Liberty Bell High School, he was named Boys Basketball Official of the Year by the Washington Officials Association (WOA) in 2022.
Rick Lewis was never a basketball player either. His role in varsity basketball was as a team manager at Mead High School when his family moved from Seattle to Spokane. Lewis officiated in the Columbia Gorge area in the early 1980s and then picked up refereeing in earnest in the early 1990s with OCBOA. Since then, Lewis has averaged 30-50 regular varsity games and five playoff games each year.
WOA Executive Board Representative Steve Simonson said that he has had the privilege of working high school basketball games with Lewis several times. “He is the consummate professional and made the games fun to work. Rick, along with some other Okanogan officials, would come down during the summer to work at our Cashmere basketball tournaments. Always good to have Rick in the gym,” Simonson said.
But Lewis’s greatest legacy, Simonson said, “is his son Tim, [who] has learned well from his father and has proven himself as one of our state’s best overall officials. Rick can show pride in the fact that his son has learned to serve others while officiating. What a great lesson that was passed on to us.”
Simonson was unable to attend Lewis’s last regular season game, but passed on congratulations and gratitude for his many years of service.
Guys like Lewis are hard to find, said Kevin Daling, the Athletic Director for Okanogan High School. “I used to officiate basketball and Rick was a great mentor,” Daling said. “He always had time and constructive feedback for young officials. Rick’s dedication to interscholastic athletics is extraordinary. He’s in it for the right reasons and his commitment to student-athletes in our area should be commended.”
Former Pateros School basketball coach, athletic director and principal Mike Hull said, “As coaches, when we saw Rick Lewis walk into the gym, we knew we were getting an official who would call a solid game for both teams involved.”
Tim Lewis echoes Daling’s and Hull’s assessments of his father’s dedication to youth athletics.
“His most defining characteristic as an official has nothing to do with what’s happening on the floor, all the Xs and Os of specific plays,” Tim said. “For him, it’s all about building relationships — with athletes and coaches, with game administrators, with other refs, and with the table crew, like the shot clock operator, and the game clock operator.”
Tim Lewis said that his father handed out very few technical fouls during his career, because it wasn’t necessary. “He would create an atmosphere with the coaches where there was so much mutual respect that it wasn’t necessary. He set a nice tone for behavior expectations,” Tim said.
His father is adept at shaping the tone of a game, Tim said. “He is really adaptable on the floor as the game changes. If more calls are needed, he makes calls. If that is necessary, he stands back and lets the game happen. If a coach pops off at him, he’s able to reset, and others would reset their own approach for him,” he said.
Hull said that Lewis officiates with compassion: “He is kind to the athletes and coaches alike. Rick is always an even-keeled official who can talk a coach down or pick a player up.”
Despite Lewis’s ability to keep things generally civil, said OCBOA Assigner Mike Thornton, Lewis dealt with his fair share of poor fan behavior over the years. “The worst experience I ever had — and I think Rick would agree — was a game where there were some controversial calls toward the end,” Thornton said. “After the game, I said to Rick, ‘Should we go out the back way?’ But Rick’s wife was waiting at the main entrance, so we went out that way. In front of the school we found 15 fans from the losing team, who had waited 30 minutes to confront us. They followed us to our cars in a mob — babies in their arms, no kidding — yelling at us, cursing us, threatening us. Rick and I just kept talking to each other and walking steadily to our cars. We still reminisce about that time!”
But Lewis is wrapping up his varsity career with far more good memories than bad. For the Lewis family — of whom only one person, Tim’s sister, Rebecca, ever played basketball — basketball is a shared passion and will likely continue to be, even as Lewis finds himself on the sidelines with a camera more often than on the floor with a whistle. “Basketball is the No. 1 conversation we have around the house,” Tim Lewis said. “We bond as a family around basketball.”
He added, “My dad and I got a lot of meaningful father-son time during all those trips over the Loup to games in Tonasket and Oroville. Some of my very favorite memories are of getting to watch him referee district championships in Wenatchee. Officiating basketball is one of the greatest gifts he’s ever given me.”
Lewis’s retirement from officiating varsity games is just “one of life’s little moments,” Tim Lewis said, “but if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we should savor little moments like these. It’s just a guy stepping down from officiating, but it’s worth pausing to recognize that moment, to celebrate it.”
Hull gave Lewis some parting instructions: “Enjoy those games from the sidelines now — you’ve earned it.”