Crim: Baucom’s demeanor, dedication stick with him into 50th season as basketball official

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Bob Baucom, a Camp Point, Ill., native, is in his 50th season officiating high school basketball in West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri. | Matt Schuckman photo

CAMP POINT, Ill. — Bob Baucom and his officiating crew were preparing to work a game in the Central girls basketball tournament a few years ago when they received a warning from the referees who had worked the previous game as they came off the floor.

Keep an eye on the three ladies sitting at midcourt, was the message. The women were extremely vocal toward officials, and not in a positive way. Terrible, in fact.

With that in mind, Baucom and his longtime officiating partner, Rusty Miller, went out for pregame warmups and took their customary position at midcourt.

“Rusty and I always carried some Orbit chewing gum,” Baucom said. “I got it out and gave Rusty one and turned around to the women and said, ‘Hey, would you ladies like to have a piece of gum?’ And they all took one.

“I said, ‘You know what I’m figuring here.’ They looked at me and said, ‘No.’ Well, I said, ‘I figure if you are chewing on this you won’t be chewing on us.’ And they all started laughing. We didn’t have any problems.

“There are times (as an official) when you don’t walk out with your chest up. We could clear the gym if we wanted to, we have that much authority. Sometimes it’s better to just handle people a little bit.”

That demeanor is one of the many reasons why Baucom remains one of the top basketball officials in West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri in this, his 50th year of calling games.

He began officiating at the urging of the late Harry Elbe soon after his high school playing career at Camp Point Central ended, picking up junior high games, then junior varsity, while working in the family business, Baucom Trucking. The pay was $15 per game.

Referees were plentiful in those days, so it took a few years for him to climb the ladder to earn assignments at the high school level, then college. He even had a stint officiating the short-lived, semi-pro Women’s Basketball Association when Quincy had a team — the Illinois Knights — in the early 1990s.

The Illinois High School Association selected Baucom to officiate the Class 1A-2A girls state tournament three times, the maximum allowed, and, along with Miller, became the first officials from the Quincy area to call a girls state championship game in 2009.

Now 68 and retired after selling the family business, Baucom continues to have a full schedule. He usually works four to five nights each week in either Missouri or Illinois. Missouri assignments usually consist of doing both girls and boys games, meaning he officiated seven contests in a recent week.

That’s 224 clock minutes of running up and down the court with teenagers, for those scoring at home.

And his longevity means he has officiated with dads, their sons and now their grandsons.

“Bob is always a professional on the floor,” said Miller, who worked alongside Baucom for more than two decades before retiring three years ago. “He looks the part and plays the part. He doesn’t let a coach or a fan get to him. He always has the same demeanor. He can really focus and eliminate the noise in a ballgame.

“Bob never gets frustrated and is always confident when he makes a bang-bang call. All those years working together, I could count on one hand the number of problems he had. We knew they were there to watch a game, not to watch us officiate.”

Bob Baucom, now in his 50th season officiating basketball in West Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri, talks to players before a free throw is shot during a game in the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament in Nivember at Blue Devil Gym. | Matt Schuckman photo

While knowing the rules and staying mentally and physically sharp admittedly are the most desired traits for any official, Baucom believes being able to effectively communicate with players and coaches is equally important to controlling a game.

“If a coach doesn’t like a call, I like to think I can walk over and say, ‘Coach, I don’t want to argue with you, but what do you got?’ ” he said. “If they think I missed a call, well, maybe I did. Don’t make excuses, but if you didn’t see it, you didn’t see it. You’re better off if you can do that rather than being in a situation where you can’t be talked to.

“I like to let kids play. I’d rather miss a call than call a cheap foul on a kid because it’s important to them. I always tell young officials to not go out there looking for something. Don’t anticipate something is going to happen, because if it doesn’t happen, you look pretty bad. You want to relax and let the game come to you.”

Relaxed and in control has been Baucom’s calling card, and the number of times his calls are questioned are few. He estimates he has officiated more than 3,000 games, a number that would be higher had he not reduced his workload so he could watch his three children play in high school.

He also spent three seasons assisting Matt Long with the Central-Southeastern girls program, although he continued to call boys games on many nights when the girls weren’t playing.

“It was Matt’s first year, and the principal came to me and asked if I would be interested because they were having trouble getting anybody to help,” Baucom said. “It was hard enough with my work to make it to my kids’ games, but I talked to my brother, and we worked out a deal. We started practice at 6 in the morning so I could be there.”

“Bob ran his butt off being a dad, an assistant coach and an official,” Miller said.

Aside from those years, Baucom has primarily been involved in the game as a player or official.

He can tick off a lifetime of memories, dating to his days playing for the late Bob Winstead at Central, a coach who “demanded so much out of everybody., which I really appreciate today.” Earning the right to officiate a state championship game obviously tops the list.

He remembers being chewed out by the late Bill “Red” Rogers, the legendary Hamilton coach, after a junior high game when he was a young official. “He rang my bell. I never forgot that because it taught me mediocrity is not good enough.”

He tells stories of officiating John Wood Community College games in the 1990s with Kerry Anders when Mike Elbe-coached teams were advancing to national tournaments. “He had the Antiguan players, and those guys were two feet above the rim, but I guess we were doing a pretty good job because they had us back all the time.”

He enjoyed officiating Heart of America Athletic Conference games. “It was easier to call because you had better talent and better coaches. Kathy Turpin (of Culver-Stockton College) was the best women’s coach I’ve ever seen.”

He lists some of his favorite venues to work — Quincy High School, Notre Dame, Central, Carthage and a host of Missouri gymnasiums, and the bigger the game, the better. “They hire you for a reason for big games. They’re not going to hire you for a 30-point blowout. If they do, you better be examining yourself.”

He rattles off the names of some of his officiating partners over the years — Miller, Anders, Tim Sedovic, Bev Bockhold, Jim Hiland, Tom Ernst, Charlie Houston and others. He points to the influence of Dick Thompson and the late John Ortwerth early in his career.

“Dick Thompson is the best referee I’ve seen in my life in this area,” Baucom said. “When I was playing at Central and Dick Thompson and Mick Kaiser walked in, we knew we were getting the best. If I was 10 feet away from a player and Dick called a foul on me, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I did it.’ You had that much respect for him because he was that good.

“He called me once. I hadn’t been reffing that long. He said, ‘Baucom, I need you to go with me.’ I said, ‘What do you got?’ He said, ‘Junior college, Moberly at Hannibal.’ I said, ‘Boy, Dick, that’s probably over my head. It would be an honor to go with you, but I don’t want to get somewhere I don’t need to be.’

“He said, ‘Baucom, you don’t have to worry. I’m good with you. I’m calling you.’ Maybe he couldn’t get anybody else, I don’t know, but I went with him, and we had a great game. To see a game, to see Dick Thompson … like I said, he was the best I’ve ever seen in this area.”

The game has changed tremendously in a half-century, especially at the high school level.

The 3-point stripe has been added, there are three referees to a crew instead of two, the 1-and-1 free throw rule has been eliminated, and athletes play year-round and have gotten faster and stronger.

“There’s no doubt the kids are just that much better. They’re so much faster and the game is faster,” Baucom said. “When they first came out with three-man crews, I thought, ‘We don’t need three guys.’ When I think about it today, it would really be a load if we went back to two-man crews.”

Bob Baucom has officiated more than 3,000 games during a career that is now in its 50th season. | Matt Schuckman photo

The one constant has been Bob Baucom calling games on winter nights across the region, and he’s not quite ready to hang up the whistle. Not when, like Thompson, he can now walk into a gym and coaches and players believe they are getting the best.

“I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he said. “I’ve had a tremendous ride. There have been a lot of good people over the years — coaches, fans, partners, other officials — and I guess that’s why I’ve hung around.

“You feel like you’re there for a reason, to let the kids do what they’ve got to do and to do your job. You gotta remember it’s for the kids. You gotta have confidence in yourself, but when people tell you they’re glad to see you, it makes you want to step your game up another notch.

“If I had a problem getting up and down the court and I’m not seeing it, I’m gone. But it hasn’t hit me to where I shouldn’t be there. I’ve already got games for next year. When you go to the gate and feel like you’re ready to go, there’s still a little spark, that’s for sure.”

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