Make the call: Officiating a lifestyle for ShawMarch 12, 2019
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
For as long as he can remember, officiating has been a focal point in Curtis Shaw’s life.
Whether it was getting his start at junior high schools back in Tennessee to refereeing at the highest level in men’s college basketball at the 2009 NCAA Championship Game, there was a pretty solid chance you’d find him with a whistle in his mouth.
While Shaw retired from his on-court duties following the 2010 Final Four, he’s remained active in the sport as the coordinator of men’s basketball officials for the Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley and Southland conferences, as well as helping out with the Missouri Valley Conference.
But perhaps the most interesting part of his journey is how he ended up in Jasper, where he’ll soon be opening a warehouse on Vine Street that will house Dalco Athletic, a company that sells all types of gear and supplies for officials in all sports.
“After speaking at a NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) meeting in Atlanta, a bunch of us went down to the hotel bar to have a good time. I was going up to order something, and I saw these two ladies sitting at the end of the bar. They were cute, so I went to order over there,” Shaw said with a laugh. “I was living in Indianapolis at the time, and she told me they had a friend they wanted me to meet as they were from Jasper. I had no idea where that was.”
After a couple of failed attempts at trying to meet this mystery woman, Shaw finally was able to see Kathy Eckerle a few months later. Since then, seven years have flown by for the couple, and as Shaw said, “It’s been pretty good since.”
Perhaps the most interesting note about the couple’s relationship is that Eckerle is the daughter of legendary referee Cyril Birge. Birge was a high school referee for 34 years, and officiated the famous Milan-Muncie Central championship game that was recreated in the movie “Hoosiers.” He also was a college official from 1941 through 1970, including nine years in the Big Ten Conference.
As it turns out, Birge also sold sporting goods out of an Evansville company for 40 years, which is very similar to what Shaw is doing now with Dalco Athletic.
“With me doing this deal, Kathy joked and said ‘Oh my gosh, it’s my father’,” Shaw said. “It’s all kind of funny.”
Shaw fell in love with officiating rather quickly. After playing baseball and basketball at several different small colleges and using up his eligibility, he went back to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and signed up to help officiate junior high basketball games, as well as peewee football games.
“I was making $75 to $80 every afternoon for three hours of work. It beat the hell out of McDonald’s,” Shaw said with a laugh. “Once I started doing basketball games, I realized I just had a talent.”
By the end of his first year, Shaw was refereeing high school varsity basketball games, and by the end of his third year, he was officiating games for small colleges around the area. At the age of 28, Shaw officiated his first Division I men’s basketball game between Furman and a team sponsored by Marathon Oil in an exhibition contest.
Since then, Shaw has officiated in 18 NCAA tournaments, seven Final Fours and one NCAA championship game. He has officiated games in the Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Southeastern, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Sun Belt, Atlantic Sun, Southland, Southern and Western Athletic conferences.
Shaw has worked with coaches from all over the country, including notable names such as Bob Knight, Lon Kruger, Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Huggins and Dean Smith. When it came to thinking back on some of his favorite memories, it was hard for Shaw just to pick a few.
“Good Lord, there’s so many. For me, one of the biggest things was the people you worked with, because I’ve met so many people who are my lifelong friends,” Shaw said. “I worked 20 years at the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, I refereed Dean Smith’s 800th win, which was the record at the time. Those kind of memories stand out. There’s some hard travel days and some things you kind of regret missing out on, but most of it was all positive.”
During his tenure as a referee, Shaw was well-known for his no-nonsense approach. In fact, he said he led the country in assessing technical fouls for 16 straight years (most of the years, he had twice as many as anyone else).
“My theory was, the rules say to do this and here’s the penalty. I’m not mad at you, it’s just that you broke this rule and this is the penalty that comes with that,” Shaw said. “Most coaches knew and respected that.”
In 2009, the Big 12 Conference came to Shaw and asked if he would be willing to retire from the floor and take over the officiating program. He ended up working one more year, with his final game coming at the Final Four in Indianapolis in 2010, before embarking on a new journey.
Now, Shaw represents a consortium of five conferences as a coordinator of men’s basketball officials for the Big 12, Ohio Valley, Missouri Valley, Conference-USA and Southland. This means he’s in charge of the training, hiring, firing, assigning officials to games, dealing with coaches, watching film, etc. He also helps work with summer referee camps geared to people trying to elevate their way to a higher level or trying to get in the system.
What’s been the hardest part of adapting to this new role?
“It’s a multitude of things. You have to understand personalities, and you have to be able to identify and train talent,” Shaw said. “A lot of it is just understanding how to manage people, just like any other company.”
These past few weeks have been busy for Shaw. He was in Evansville last weekend for the Ohio Valley tournament, he’s heading to Dallas today for a few Conference-USA games and then he’ll head to Kansas City for the Big 12 tourney the rest of the week. He’ll also head to Tulsa for the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament to evaluate and critique the referees to help decide which officials will move on to call the Sweet 16 and beyond.
Shaw has enjoyed this role, and to the surprise of some, he doesn’t miss being on the court as much as you may think he would.
“When I was little, I always thought I’d want to coach,” Shaw said. “Now, I kind of get to do that with this role. It’s like my second career. It’s been an easy transition, and I don’t miss being on the floor one bit.”
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