Ralph Swearngin, 2017 Gold Whistle Award recipient, is a former executive director of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA). Swearngin was with the GHSA for 24 years, the last 21 as executive director. He served in many roles for the NFHS, including a term on that body’s board of directors and the hall of fame screening committee. He was a longtime member of the football rules committee and was a past chair of the softball rules committee. He was also a board member for the American Association of Adapted Sport Programs. Swearngin was also a former high school football official in Georgia and California for 22 years. He was a former NCAA basketball and baseball coach and a former NASO board member (2011-15).
Ron Foxcroft, 2016 Gold Whistle Award and 2004 Mel Narol Medallion Award recipient, is the chairman and founder Fox 40 International. He also a former NCAA Division I and international men’s basketball official. Worked the 1976 Olympic Gold Medal championship men’s basketball game between the United States and Yugoslavia. He serves as a NBA officials observer and has been inducted into six halls of fame. He is special advisor to the NASO board and former member to the Officiating Development Alliance.
Marcia Alterman, 2015 Gold Whistle Award recipient, is the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials’ executive director and former president. She also served as women’s volleyball secretary-rules editor for the NCAA from 2001-12 and named first NCAA women’s volleyball rules interpreter in 2002. Marcia has worked numerous postseason assignments at all levels of collegiate volleyball and currently is the coordinator of volleyball officials for six Division I conferences: Big Ten, Conference USA, Big East, American Athletic Conference, Horizon League and Mid-American Conference. She is a member of the Officiating Development Alliance.
Joe Crawford, 2014 Gold Whistle Award recipient. Joe was hired by the NBA in 1977 at the age of 26. He is among the most senior NBA referees. He is one of six referees to work 2,000 NBA games, a milestone he passed in November 2005. Joe has worked more then 275 playoff games and more than 45 Finals games, both NBA records. Before joining the NBA, Crawford officiated high school games in Pennsylvania and the Eastern Basketball Association.
Big Ten football official and crew chief; former Arena Football League official; USA Football officiating consultant; 15 postseason bowl game assignments, including the 2011 Tostitos BCS Championship Game; worked Arena Bowl XVII; former baseball umpire and state rules interpreter; retired school administrator.
Terry Gregson’s impact on the industry has been significant, both on and off the ice. Currently the NHL’s director of officiating, Gregson officiated the Stanley Cup finals eight times and was assigned to the 1982 World Championship in Finland. Gregson is considered by his NHL peers as “an official’s official.” His respect among other officials is so deep that he served as the executive director of the NHL Officials Association for 20 years. His tenure in that post was so long in part because the members were so pleased with his efforts that he ran unopposed for re-election. Similarly, he has earned the respect of others in the officiating community and of executives throughout the NHL. He has been deeply involved in the league’s succession program, which is designed to allow veteran officials a graceful exit from the staff over a period of years. He has devoted a great deal of time to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As a member of the Officiating Development Alliance, Gregson is a “go-to guy,” often used as a resource by other supervisors and coordinators.
Esse Baharmast, a 1998 World Cup referee and 1997 MLS referee of the year, is the first soccer official to receive the Gold Whistle Award. Baharmast is a native of Iran and moved to the U.S. in 1972. He began to officiate soccer in 1976, starting with youth games and working his way up. In 1981, he earned professional assignments and officiated in the American Professional Soccer League, the Continental Indoor Soccer League, the National Professional Soccer League, the Major Indoor Soccer League, the American Soccer League and the American Indoor Soccer Association. He became an American citizen in 1991 and had his first international-friendly assignment between the U.S. and Uruguay on May 5, 1991. He became a FIFA referee in 1993. Baharmast, who served as U.S. Soccer director of advanced and international referee development from 1998-2008, instructs soccer officials from around the world as a FIFA technical instructor. He says that he has learned through the years that players and coaches respect good people who are also referees, which is all he seeks in a potential referee.
Emily Alexander is a regional coordinator in the NCAA Softball Umpire Improvement Program (SUIP) and ASA Hall of Fame umpire, was selected by the NASO board of directors as this year’s recipient. Alexander, was the first female umpire inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 2004. She was named as one of the 52 most influential people in officiating history by Referee magazine in 2007. She began her umpiring career in 1974 at the age of 29. She quickly elevated up the umpiring ranks, working her first ASA national in 1980, (women’s major fast pitch), then the women’s major national in 1987 and men’s major fast pitch in 1994. She added many more major ASA national championships to her list of accomplishments thereafter. Among the numerous major international championships that she has worked include the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and two Olympic festivals in 1990 and 1995. Alexander, who continues to umpire at the high school level, has served as the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport rules interpreter and Phoenix deputy UIC from 1981-1983. In 1994, she was named Phoenix UIC for fast pitch and from 1999-2001 was the Phoenix UIC for both fast pitch and slow pitch. She has been instrumental in authoring and updating the CCA Softball Umpires Manual as well as providing instructional content for the NCAA’s softball website for umpires on ArbiterSports.com. Alexander founded the Cactus Umpire Association in 1978, and has been an assistant instructor or lead instructor at many ASA umpire schools.
Mills Lane has always personified honesty, integrity and class in his life as a boxer, referee, attorney, jurist and television personality. Mills for years was one of the most recognizable and followed sports officials. Lane officiated 102 championship fights during his boxing officiating career, including the June 28, 1997, heavyweight bout during which Mike Tyson bit off a portion of Evander Holyfield’s ear. From his signature phrase “Let’s get it on!” to his stern warnings during a bout, Lane was able to keep the combatants in line during his 33-year run as a referee. Lane was the referee when the “Fan Man” parachuted into the ring at Caesars Palace during Holyfield’s heavyweight title fight with Riddick Bowe. Lane watched Oliver McCall lose it emotionally and tearfully quit on his stool against Lennox Lewis on Feb. 7, 1997, at the Las Vegas Hilton. And Lane was the one who disqualified Henry Akinwande on Dec. 7, 1997, after he nailed Lewis with a low blow in their fight at Caesars Tahoe. Veteran referee Joe Cortez said Lane set the bar high for other refs in Nevada. “The entire boxing referee fraternity owes a lot to him,” Cortez said. “He was a premier referee. He was very consistent and very fair with the fighters, but very firm.”
Marcy Weston has made a mark both on the court and off. She was a respected official from 1964-84 and worked two NCAA women’s Division I championship games. She left the court to become the NCAA national coordinator of women’s basketball officiating — a position she held until 2005 — and served as the secretary-editor of the women’s rules committee from 1984-97. Her efforts provided increased opportunities and visibility for women’s basketball officials. She has always been an outspoken advocate for all officials at all levels, regardless of gender. “There are some, a very select few, who stand as icons to those of us in officiating,” said Barry Mano, NASO president. “Even fewer still are those who are universally recognized and accepted as being our beacons, giving us enduring pride in officiating. Marcy Weston is such a shining light.” Weston served on the NASO board of directors from 1999-03, serving as chair of the association in 2003. In addition to being the first female to receive the Gold Whistle, she is the first individual to receive the Mel Narol Medallion in addition to the Gold Whistle Award.
Jerry Markbreit began officiating in intramural college fraternity games 1953, after nearly being seriously injured several times attempting to play college football. Markbreit began officiating as a career in 1957, when he joined the Central Officials Association, and began working public league and junior varsity games. By the late 1950s, Markbreit was officiating high school games. Markbreit entered the Big Ten Conference as a back judge at the beginning of 1966 season, and became a referee at the end of the following season. He joined the NFL as a line judge in 1976, and became a referee in 1977. He retired in 1999 but remains involved in the league, having served as an instant replay official for two years following his retirement as an active official, and currently as an associate supervisor and head trainer for NFL referees. He is the only NFL official to have worked four Super Bowls.
Blow the Whistle on Cancer is sponsored by the V Foundation for Cancer Research in which officials in all sports and at all levels raise funds and support for cancer research by donating a stipend from one game to the foundation. Started in 1993 by ESPN and former coach and broadcaster Jim Valvano, the Foundation’s mission is to raise awareness and money for essential research to locate the causes and develop the cure for cancer.
John Keys was a college football and a high school referee. Keys, a commercial airplane pilot, also owned a Cessna 182 and averages about 300 volunteer hours a year for Angel Flight, Air LifeLine and County Search and Rescue. While working as commission of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the Interior Department, he helped found CAST (Catch a Special Thrill) program that gives disabled children the opportunity to fish. He promoted the use of the authorities that permit federal agencies to hire students while they are still going to college and prepare them for Reclamation careers with on-the-job experience, and he strongly supported the vocational training programs offered by the Jobs Corps for disadvantaged young people. He died in a plane crash in 2008.
Bob McElwee began officiating in 1961 while stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base in California. Upon discharge from the military, he returned home to Philadelphia area and began officiating high school football. In 1966 he received his first college assignment (JV game) from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. McElwee pent 10 years working in the Ivy League. The former American football official served for 41 years, with 27 of those years in the National Football League, from 1976 to 2003. He is co-founder of Renew, an inner-city non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing for the disadvantaged in Camden, N.J. He has also worked on fund-raising efforts for the American Red Cross.
Bob Delaney is a former police officer and is a professional basketball referee in the National Basketball Association from 1987-88 NBA season to 2010-11 NBA season. As an police officer, Delaney was involved in an intense undercover operation. Delaney struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and traces of Stockholm syndrome after getting too close to those he investigated. Therapy helped him come to terms with all he’d endured during his three tense years undercover, and, once a college basketball star, Delaney began officiating high school and intramural games as a way to rebuild his life — eventually working his way up to the NBA, where he has been a referee for more than two decades. He is is a staunch supporter of a host of charity activities in the Sarasota, Fla., area. Easter Seals, an outreach center for young girls, local cancer research efforts, a prison boot camp and “Project Heart” all benefit from Delaney’s dedicated service.
Larry Young began his umpiring career in the American League in 1985 and worked both leagues from 2000 until his retirement following the 2007 season. He is now one of Major League Baseball’s umpire supervisors, in which he serves as a liaison to MLB’s active umpires. Young also serves as an adviser to the game’s Playing Rules Committee, which is charged with voting to amend the Official Baseball Rules. He was the first umpire ever to be a part of the committee. Larry often has helped articulate and instruct his fellow umpires on the rules changes enacted by the Playing Rules Committee. Young also has worked as an instructor at each of the first two Major League Baseball Umpire Camps held annually at MLB’s Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.
Paul Stewart is a former professional ice hockey player and referee. He played in both the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League. After his playing days ended, he had a lengthy career as an NHL referee.In February 1998, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer only a few days after the birth of his first child. True to his character, he was determined to fight the disease and make it back to the NHL. Nine months later, he was back on the ice. Stewart is currently Men’s and Women’s League director of officiating for ECAC Hockey.
Delaney struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and traces of Stockholm syndrome after getting too close to those he investigated. Therapy helped him come to terms with all he’d endured during his three tense years undercover, and, once a college basketball star, Delaney began officiating high school and intramural games as a way to rebuild his life — eventually working his way up to the NBA.
Tommy Nuñez is the founder and coordinator of the National Hispanic Basketball Classic (NHBC) in Phoenix. The tournament began in 1980 and its main goal is to raise funds to help defray expenses of academic and athletic activities for disadvantaged and high-risk youth. The program emphasizes staying in school and maintaining a drug-free lifestyle. In addition to conducting the annual tournament, Nuñez spends countless hours speaking to children at schools, conducts several free basketball clinics in the southwestern region of the U.S., and makes motivational speeches to adult organizations nationwide.
Reggie Jackson once called him the “Reggie Jackson of umpiring,” and even though Major League umpire Durwood Merrill isn’t as brash as the Hall of Fame slugger, he certainly is one of baseball’s most entertaining figures. He is also one of the most giving. Because of his Christmas charity work in his hometown of Hooks, a town of 2,000 tucked into the northeast corner of Texas, Merrill has been featured by both ESPN and The Sporting News. The Hooks Christian Services Charity provides food, toys, bicycles and clothes to almost 200 impoverished people every year.
Over the decades, Ted Butcher’s name has been synonymous with community service throughout the Boston area. He’s founded and directed youth athletic programs; trained most football and basketball referees in the region; directed clinics for officials, coaches and players; advised college athletic departments; helped save schools threatened by budget cut-backs; created and improved existing facilities; and welded programs into beneficial coalitions. While Ted sought neither notice nor compensation, he’s won the plaudits of local government, municipal commissions, civic and community groups.
Executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), Bernie Saggau was nominated for his outstanding leadership in the areas of sportsmanship and motivational speaking skills plus his visionary work with young people. Perhaps the best testimony to his efforts is the establishment of the “Bernie Saggau Award,” presented annually to a graduating student of each high school in the state of Iowa.
The superintendent of schools for the Edwardsville School District and an NCAA Division I men’s basketball official, Ed Hightower was nominated in part for his numerous contributions to community and education across the country. Ed’s development of a successful after-school program was fueled by his desire to help children. His program is now used as a model for other schools.
An NHL linesman since 1979, Ron Asseltine was selected for his performance as an official and for his contributions to his community with the “Wish-Fund-For-Children” program he instituted in Guelph. In 12 years of operation, the program has raised nearly $400,000 and granted more than 90 wishes to children suffering from a terminal or life-threatening illness or injury.
An American League umpire since 1977, Steve Palermo was nominated for his outstanding career as an umpire and for his inspiration and assistance to persons with spinal injuries. He and his wife Debbie founded the Steve Palermo Foundation for Spinal Injuries to raise funds for research, equipment and support for uninsured victims of spinal injuries.
An NFL official for 31 years before his retirement in 1990, Jim Tunney was selected in recognition of his work in fundraising and charity work with groups such as Special Olympics, the Los Angeles Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, and the Family Service Agency.
An American League umpire and crew chief and one of the two most senior men on the AL staff, Larry Barnett was selected in recognition of his long record of voluntary service in Veterans Administration Medical Centers across the United States.
Former sporting goods business owner and 28-year basketball official, the late Pete Pavia was selected in part for his fundraising efforts benefiting a Rochester-area summer vacation facility for handicapped children.
Retired payroll manager for RCA Victor and a 50+ year football official (with additional service to basketball and baseball), Ed Myer was selected in part for his long-term work in officials’ training as well as his leadership in the establishment of the Brooks-Irvine Memorial Football Club.
A former NFL director of officiating, Art McNally was selected in part for his consistency and completely professional approach to officiating administration as well as his long career in public education.