Thursday, January 31, 2013

Go stand in the corner!

Feb. 18, 1980, Gold Dome, Shreveport: The officials are looking for the culprit;
 the Centenary coaches (at right) are worried about getting a technical foul
... and I'm gone! (Shreveport Journal photo)
     OK, it's true, I can't deny it. Once upon a time, I was ejected from a basketball game at Centenary's Gold Dome.
     Actually, people won't let me forget. Can't tell you how many times I've been reminded of it. In fact, it became a fairly regular topic in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department ... and there's a reason for that.
     Just a couple of weeks ago, visiting with some old friends from Louisiana Tech, one of them -- Benny Thornell -- said, "Hey, weren't you kicked out of a game at the Gold Dome one time?"
     I responded: "Don't know what you're talking about."
     Then I told them the story, and here it is now.
     It was my fifth basketball season as Centenary's sports information director, a tenure that began in Robert Parish's senior season. Good job, great travel ... not much money in it. But a good time in my life; I met Bea and Jason near the start of the job.
     In the 1979-80 season, we had our best team since Parish had gone on to the NBA. On Feb. 18, 1980, we were playing a rough-and-tough University of North Texas team at the Gold Dome. We weren't winning and the Mean Green -- an appropriate nickname -- was physically beating up our talented center, Cherokee Rhone.
       I was seldom happy with the officiating we saw, and when I wasn't criticizing the officials on radio (I did color commentary on road games, mostly with Jim Hawthorne -- now the longtime LSU broadcaster -- as the play-by-play guy), I sometimes blasted them verbally (off the air).
        So I want to make this clear: I was long overdue for what was about to happen.
        At home games in the Gold Dome, we had a fine, experienced statistics crew; my job was to compile quick stats during timeouts and provide them to the radio crews and print media. Other than that, I could watch and then total the boxscore after the game to go with the typed play-by-play.
        UNT is up 8-12 points, we're in foul trouble, there's maybe 8 minutes left to play, and I'm not happy with the officials. UNT is hammering Cherokee and our best player, George Lett, and the officials are letting them get hammered.
        The ball is going out of bounds and bounces toward the press table. It's close enough for me to grab, and I do. As the official comes close, I fire the ball at him and yell, "Get them off our players." He was standing maybe 5 feet away; I hit him with a fastball.
         He blows the whistle ... loudly. I know what's coming.
         He confers with his fellow official, and the coaches from each team move toward midcourt. Security officers are on their way. They're all trying to figure this out.
         But I'm gone. I took off for the hallway. Even if they wanted to kick me out -- and they did -- I didn't give them the chance.
Tommy Canterbury and Tommy
Vardeman: the Centenary
coaches, 1979-80 season
(Shreveport Times photo, 2012)
         The Centenary coaches, Tommy Canterbury and Tommy Vardeman, aren't worried about me; they're worried about getting a technical foul. Don't blame them.
          No problem, though. No technical. I come out of the Gold Dome hallway and watch the rest of the game from a corner of the gym. My tirade doesn't help; no rally by the Gents; a victory for UNT.
         The officials, for the record, were Ronnie Cole and Lynn Shortnacy. We'd seen Shortnacy -- later a Southland Conference and WAC official -- several times, but Cole was a newcomer to us.
        They were no better than most of the officials we had, and probably no worse. But I didn't like them that night.
        Of course, I wasn't going to be able to live this down. To make it worse, KTBS-TV/Ch. 3 got a cutaway shot of me standing in the corner of the Gold Dome watching the game and used it on the news that night while reporting about the game. Just to be sure, they showed it again the next night. Thanks, then-KTBS sports director Ed Baswell and (cameraman) Jose Gant.
        And we got home that night, my son -- 5-year-old Jason -- told his mother as we came in the door, "They made Daddy go stand in the corner."
       People reminded me of it for years. I was just warming up. I got kicked out of kids' soccer games (they were fouling Jason), I got kicked out of other places, I got kicked out of a media softball game, and I got kicked out of some jobs. Great legacy.
         And so after years in Florida and Tennessee, I am at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on a "tryout" for a job. It is Oct. 5, 2001 -- 21 years later. It is the Friday night before the Texas-Oklahoma game; also the night Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single-season home-run record with his 71st homer (and later his 72nd). That puts into play a special section by the S-T. It's a busy night, and there is lots of work to do.
          It's a large staff inside Star-Telegram sports; people are introducing themselves to me for a couple of hours. One guy comes over and says, "Hi, I'm Jerry Barnes."
          "Nice to meet you," I say, and Barnes is laughing. "Oh, we've met before," he says. "I was sitting next to you the night you got kicked out of the game at the Gold Dome."
         He was, Jerry explains, the assistant SID for North Texas. The basketball, he says, "was headed right for me and you jumped up and grabbed it, and threw it at the ref."
         "Yeah, your guys were beating the hell out of Cherokee Rhone," I reply.  
          Then, I add, "It's a small world. Please don't tell anyone; I'll never get this job."
          He didn't tell ... that night. But I worked with Barnes for 9 1/2 years; he was one of my best friends in the department. And every third week or so, he would say out loud, "Hey, Nico, why don't you tell us about the night you got kicked out of the game at Centenary?"  
           He also said many times that he knew one of the officials, Cole, who had been a year ahead of him at Denison High School and said that Cole "was really pissed that night."            
        And Barnes would remind me, "You are still the only SID I ever saw get kicked out of a game."
        I can't deny it. I went and stood in the corner.
        But he knew why: "We were beating the hell out of Cherokee Rhone."
        He's right about that.   


  1. I remember this well, and a great story Nico. By the way, did you see the recent story on the Chief and how he feels shunned by the NBA, Bird and McHale? Made me feel sad. Mark Tiner's first basketball game to attend was when Woodlawn played in the state finals in Alexandria. Mark was still in diapers. After the game we went on to Church Point to see Vickie's folks. I was at Tech with Tommy Canterbury. Good guy.

  2. Remember that night since I was working on the stat crew. You somehow just disappeared behind the stands in a fast way I might add. Cherokee and George Lett were incredible players on that team. It was ashame Cherokee messed his knee up or no telling how good he would have been.

  3. More from Lee Hiller: Good story. I seem to remember since I was one of those that was working on the stat crew. You somehow just disappeared behind the stands. I came close to getting a tech a time or two while working on the stat crew. If it weren't for Jerry Peyton keeping me inline, I would have probably been ejected a time or two.

  4. From Maxie Hays: I don't blame you, Nico. I want to do the same thing to some of these high school officials [in the Fort Worth-Dallas area]. It gets worse every year.

  5. From Pat Booras: Nico, I was a freshman at Centenary and on your stat crew that night. Heck, and remember you got in a major flap the same season in a game vs. La. Tech at the Gold Dome one Saturday afternoon. And later that night, we covered the Independence Bowl for Associated Press. ... It was Syracuse with RB Joe Morris vs. Tulsa. ... Good times.

  6. From John James Marshall: Good effort, coach ... really enjoyed it. Obviously had heard the story but was short on details. Now I know. As Chick Childress would say, thanks for flowering it up.

  7. From Don Birkelbach: As a loyal member of the Centenary stat crew at that time, I can attest to the fact that you did have it coming. Thanks for the memories.

  8. From Liz Piker: I loved the blog about the Centenary game -- we have ALL erred on the side of righteousness and BAD REFEREES. Especially at Tech basketball games -- I remember a few.

  9. From Teddy Allen: Sweet effort. I have an autographed 8x10 here of Lynn Shortnacy and Bobby Knight getting into it. Shortnacy signed it and sent it to me. He and Sam [Wilkinson] and a couple other guys went to the World Series (Rangers vs. Cardinals) together a couple of years ago. ... Go stand in the corner. Nice!

  10. From Pesky Hill: Since I was SID at TCU from 1978-81 I don’t remember hearing about that. Thanks for sharing. That’s hilarious. I’m sure I actually got close to being kicked out of a few games myself as an SID. I yelled at officials a few times and got warned but that’s about it. Like you, I just didn’t want my team to get a technical. I did however get kicked out of quite a few baseball games as a player (arguing with umpires) and basketball (got in a few fights).

  11. From Warren Massia: Jerry Pierce at NSU got a technical once for typing on the typewriter while he was sitting on press row. Guess the refs didn't like what he was typing.

  12. From Dick Concilio: Well, everyone knows, you never did sit on the fence!

  13. From Clyde Mizumoto: Loved your blog entry about heaving the basketball at the ref, then getting the heave-ho in return. Classic, Nico. I can easily see how that went down.

  14. From Dr. Bob Haley: Some of your friends don't seemed to be surprised at your pique of anger many years ago. But most of us are stunned. All this time we considered you a placid, laid-back Dutchman who wouldn't even think of striking a defenseless ref from 5 feet. Your strategy didn't seem to work since the Gents lost. The expression of the coaches' faces were ones of 'did I really see what I thought I did?' Even thought I am a loyal La. Techster, the Centenary basketball program brought some valuable positive energy to Shreveport for a number of years.

  15. From Jerie S. Black: I so enjoy all your posts ... the gift never goes away. Your post about being tossed from the game during your Centenary SID days was very funny.

  16. From Tommy Canterbury: Enjoyed Nico. Loved the thrown-out-of-the-game story and the comments you got.

  17. From Tom Kleckner: I’m trying to remember if I was there that night; it happened during my one year in Shreveport. I do remember George Lett, Cherokee, the Tommy coaches, even Ed Baswell and Jose Gant. I remember all those names (and yours, too, of course). That must have been a game Phil (Rogers) covered.