The End of an Era
It was spring 1975. I had just finished working another basketball season, the 15th of my officiating career. Just before the start of the 1974-75 season, I had left my full-time job in the Minority Affairs Department at the Schlitz Brewing Company in Milwaukee. Now the season was over. Now what?
Well, and I remember this like it was yesterday, I was driving over to an auto parts store and bam, “sitting” right there on my dashboard, in “plain view,” was a concept. I was riveted. How about a magazine for sports officials? How about a national association to advocate on behalf of sports officials? Whoa. I was so transfixed, I almost missed the turn to the auto parts store.
When I got back home, I mentioned my “visitation” to my wife, Jean. She said she thought it sounded like a really good idea. But publishing a magazine – huh? Starting a national association – huh?
I mulled the ideas over for a couple of days and decided to get some advice. The guy I chose to talk to was an attorney: Bill Kolbe. Some years earlier, Kolbe helped my brother and me incorporate a drag racing team. That corporation was no longer being used and I thought, if I chose to move forward, I might be able to use that corporation and save the state filing fee. Hah!
I made an appointment with Bill. He asked me what I had in mind. I told him of my vision. After listening to me for about 15 minutes, he voiced his surprise there wasn’t a magazine for officials. He got intrigued. Then, just a few minutes later, he said this: “I think I know some people who might invest in this thing.” I was stunned!
A few months later, we held a meeting at the Racine Country Club for the purpose of putting an investor group together. Bill had decided the group should be held to eight. The meeting concluded and the investor group committed their checks. Referee Enterprises Inc. (REI) was formed.
Three years later, under the continuing guidance of Mr. Kolbe, we launched the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational association. We did that in late 1979. REI provided the seed money for NASO but did not “own” it. Bill was not too happy with that decision but he could not persuade me otherwise. I felt NASO had to be its own entity, owned by the members, not by a privately held company.
Throughout all the years since we launched Referee, we have been nurtured and supported by a small, tight group of investors. We started with eight. At the end of year one, four of them decided to get out and take the tax write-off. That left us with four shareholders. Those four shareholders continued with us for the next 40-plus years. They became part of the Referee family. They became dear friends.
Then, time started closing doors. The largest minority-shareholder was Bill Law Sr. He passed away in 2003. Kolbe, known to us as our “Coach K,” passed away on June 23, 2022. In both cases, their REI shares were willed to their heirs. That left Denny Waisman and me. Denny let me know he would like to redeem his shares. The old group was no longer.
I felt a desire to put a buyback together for all our minority shareholders. We did that. It was smooth because George Gissell, our CPA and advisor for all these years, guided us every step of the way. It was caring and it was done out of respect for the support this group has given us. Their legacy is summed up in all we have been able to accomplish throughout the past 47 years.
The end of an era has taken place. They will be missed. They are revered by our entire REI and NASO team for the opportunity they gave to serve and support sports officials. There is so much more for us to do.
Referee Magazine Publisher, Barry Mano’s latest Publisher’s Memo. Found in the October, 2023 issue of Referee magazine. For more information or to subscribe to Referee magazine, visit www.referee.com.