Story about Ed Hightower

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Story about Ed Hightower

Postby gundun » Sun Mar 30, 2008 10:46 am

BTW, IMHO, he is one of the worse ever. He just wants to be seen.

A life in stripes: Edwardsville school superintendent refs NCAA Final Four

The metro-east is home to one of the most recognized basketball officials in the country, but it wasn't always that way for Ed Hightower.

While his calls now help determine the outcome of teams in the NCAA Tournament, they once helped decide intramural basketball games at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's drafty old Bubble Gym.

He was paid $1.25 per game.

No expenses, no plane trips, no hotel rooms. That would all come later, after hundreds of hours honing his game on courts in the metro-east and elsewhere.

This was the same Hightower who was later urged to drop his horn-rimmed glasses in favor of contact lenses. Why give coaches and fans extra ammunition?

"You never forget those moments and you have to go back and reflect on those days," said Hightower, now in his 26th year of officiating. "You never thought that working in intramural basketball in the Bubble Gym would lead to the highest level of competition and having the opportunity work Final Fours."

On Saturday, Hightower was working the West Regional final in Phoenix, where UCLA played Xavier. It was his 79th game this season and there is a chance he could get another Final Four.

"I was selected for the first and second round, so I've started that journey," Hightower said. "We'll see where it leads."

The same referee that has dealt with former Indiana coach Bob Knight and watched former Michigan star Chris Webber call an ill-fated timeout in the 1993 national championship game that helped give North Carolina the title has a full-time job as Edwardsville District 7 superintendent.

Hightower supervises his school district with the same detail-oriented approach he takes with officiating, and gives that job his highest priority. Nothing is left to chance, everything that can be done, will be done -- and done correctly.

"He's a very, very classy, well-respected referee," said Ron Zetcher of St. Louis, a former officiating partner of Hightower and director of officiating for the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. "He's always carried himself well. When I refereed with him, I always knew exactly what he was going to do, no surprises.

"That might be the reason he's gone to 11 Final Fours."

Hightower, 56, has indeed worked 11 Final Fours, including seven straight from 1988 to 1994. He also was on college basketball's biggest stage in 1996, 2002, 2005 (in St. Louis) and 2006, working five national championship games in the process.

Tough calls made without benefit of instant replay, hostile fans, volatile coaches and second-guessing announcers all come with the territory.

"You don't even think about, 'Do I make this call?'" Hightower explained. "You are out there to adjudicate the rules and at the end of the day, you have to do the right thing.

"Somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose every game, you just have to be as fair as you can. If you've done the right thing, then so be it --and move on."

He does the majority of his work in the Big 10 Conference, but also works in the Big 12 Conference and Conference USA.

"I remember when he broke in," said former Northwestern coach Rich Falk, now a Big Ten associate commissioner in charge of officiating programs. "He was one of those young officials where if you gave respect, you'd get it in return. It's still his trademark today."

Hightower has won virtually every award in officiating, including being named the Naismith Division I Men's College Basketball Official of the Year in 1992.

In 1995 he picked up the National Association of Sports Officials' Gold Whistle Award.

"It's not about me or the coaches, it's about the kids," Hightower said. "There are times where you have to rein a coach in, so you do that and do it with respect. There are times you have to rein a kid in, and you do that with respect."

A life in stripes

Hightower, who played basketball at Alton High and for two years at SIUE, began officiating intramural games at SIUE in 1970. He worked city league games in Alton and junior high games before progressing into the high school ranks.

Hightower quickly moved up the ladder, working college games and doing the 1977 National Junior College tournament in Kansas.

Hired by the Missouri Valley Conference at 26, Hightower worked in the league for two years and began doing Big Ten games as well as part of that league's satellite staff.

Twenty-six years later, Hightower is the Big Ten's senior official and an important mentor for young officials in the league.

Falk said Hightower's background as an academic administrator makes a difference in his officiating. Hightower's "pregames," meetings when officials go over points of emphasis and other pertinent items, are legendary.

"His vocation is superintendent of schools and he understands what teaching's all about," Falk said. "He's a terrific educator and he carries that right into the pregame. He's very organized, very detailed, very thorough. He involves everybody in those pregames to get input."

Zetcher remembered a nailbiter game involving Iowa and Iowa State where Hightower helped cool down a hot situation.

Zetcher made a goaltending call against Iowa State that brought an instant reaction from former Cyclones coach Johnny Orr.

"It was one of those plays where I wasn't really sure that I had it," Zetcher said. "Ed blew his whistle and asked if I was sure that was what went down."

Hightower had a different angle on the play and along with Zetcher decided to change the call.

"Johnny knew that Ed was right, so we changed the call," Zetcher said. "If Ed hadn't stepped up and helped me, who knows what would have happened."

The pair worked an NCAA Tournament game involving Duke and Seton Hall together early in their career. After hundreds of games together, plenty of memories remain.

"From the very beginning, he was diligent in his approach to success," Zetcher said. "He was looking at game tapes long before that was popular. He was looking at all the nuances that weren't good and he worked hard to overcome them."

Falk said the Big Ten likes using its best young officials with Hightower.

"He takes the role of being a mentor very seriously," Falk said. "They learn so much from him. We are constantly looking for that new wave of talent and guys like Ed can really be a big factor for us."

One-man effort in Notre Dame-DePaul game made Hightower's reputation

Ed Hightower has done a lot over the years to cement his reputation as one of the top college basketball officials in the country.

But the foundation for Hightower's reputation may have been laid one day in 1983 when he worked part of the first half of a nationally televised Notre Dame-DePaul game by himself.

Hightower had gotten to the game site the night before, but there was bad weather and the other two officials were delayed because of fog.

"They were about 12 minutes away from the arena at starting time and NBC said no, we're going to start this game on time," Hightower said.

Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps and DePaul's Ray Meyer could have pressed two local high school officials into service, but decided to let Hightower go it alone.

"I worked the first nine minutes of the game myself," Hightower said. "The crowd was so great, the coaches were good and it was demanding, but fun."

Hightower was part of the officiating crew that ejected longtime North Carolina coach Dean Smith from a 1991 Final Four game in Indianapolis. He was the lead official in the 1993 national championship game when Michigan's Chris Webber called a timeout that his team didn't have, leading to a technical foul and free throws that helped North Carolina win the title.

Many college basketball fans know Indiana coach Bob Knight as the chair-throwing, foul-mouthed ogre who stormed Big Ten sidelines trying to intimidate everyone in his path.

But longtime NCAA basketball official Ed Hightower has seen a different side of Knight, a very different side indeed.

"He's given so much behind the scenes to so many people that you wouldn't believe it," Hightower said.

Hightower was flying to Indiana for an Illinois-Indiana game around 15 years ago when he brought a special 12-year-old visitor along.

"The kid had gotten hurt and two of his favorite teams were Illinois and Indiana, and his favorite team was Indiana," Hightower said. "Coach Knight not only autographed a team picture, but he got a basketball and had all his kids autograph it. Those are the things that don't come out that the guy does."

This season, Hightower had the rare distinction of working Knight's 900th career victory as well as the first career win of Knight's son and successor at Texas Tech, Pat Knight.

"Certainly he didn't always agree with me and I didn't always agree with him," Hightower said. "But he gave a great deal to the game and he made everybody around him better."

Hightower also admired former Illini coach Lou Henson and former Purdue coach Gene Keady.

"You meet so many good people and the relationship between coaches and officials is not as adversarial as some people would think it is," Hightower said. "They have a job to do, they are out there to get as much for their team as they can and they will go as far as you allow them to go. That's where you have to draw the line."

Even the gruff, no-nonsense Keady impressed Hightower.

"Gene Keady to me is one of the all-time great guys in college basketball, I just thought the world of him," Hightower said. "People thought he was rough and tough, but you would not find a greater person than Gene Keady."

Two of Hightower's favorite players over the years were Bradley's Hersey Hawkins and Indiana's Calbert Cheaney.

Hightower recalled showing up two hours early for a game only to see Hawkins practicing jumps shots, creating game situations for himself.

"He said 'The more I simulate and the more I practice, the more comfortable I feel with shooting this jump shot,"' Hightower recalled. "I use that when I talk to young people often about work ethic. It's all about making yourself a great player, or great at whatever you do."
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Re: Story about Ed Hightower

Postby Xman95 » Sun Mar 30, 2008 1:14 pm

gundun wrote:BTW, IMHO, he is one of the worse ever. He just wants to be seen.
Hopefully that opinion didn't come from the article because I didn't see anything that would lead me to the same opinion. Now, personally, I think all refs are garbage. I think we have gotten to a point where to often they get a free pass because "well, they'll always call that" even if it's not a foul, or "you'll never get that call" when it should be called. Fans, players, coaches, the NCAA...we've all allowed refs to call their own game instead of the one in the rulebook.
"I was in Dayton, Ohio recently. You know what is a fun thing to do there? Pack up and get the **** out." -- Dave Attell
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Re: Story about Ed Hightower

Postby gundun » Sun Mar 30, 2008 1:49 pm

I was born and raised in Madison Co., Illinois and have many relatives still there.
Besides I watched several of his games in person this year.
You are probably correct in assuming that I don't have a high regard for him. Think he favors certain teams.
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Re: Story about Ed Hightower

Postby mtax » Sun Mar 30, 2008 11:04 pm

gundun, after hearing Byron in the pre-game show bemoan the fact that Hightower was doing the game and liked to be noticed, I watched Hightower closely during the game. Until the game was beyond salvation almost all his calls favored Xavier - hopefully they were all fair. He wasn't automatically favoring the higher seed is my main point. The other two guys I'm not so sure about, especially the outside official who called the non-foul foul (with Hightower under the basket looking right at the play and not calling a foul, by the way) and the block/charge after we had cut the lead to twelve and had some momentum.

The players are so big and so fast and agile these days and are always in their late teens and early twenties, while the referees are getting older, slower and losing their sight, while often being a foot shorter than the players. The only thing that saves them some times is their x-ray vision.
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Re: Story about Ed Hightower

Postby gundun » Mon Mar 31, 2008 12:37 am

mtax wrote "He wasn't automatically favoring the higher seed is my main point."

Actually Byron and I are in agreement. He just plays favorites. Bob Knight is a favorite. I am guessing we are now a favorite.

My late brother would claim U of L wasn't a favorite.

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