Area basketball official calls final game after 40-year career: ‘There were a lot of tears’

Rick Delaney officiated his final high school basketball game Monday night. No more checking the schedule, getting home late and missing out on family things. Those are the things it’s easy to say good bye to after 40 years. But he will miss the people.

“It’s been very good to me, and it’s been like going to college and making friends for life,” Delaney said.

Many of those friends and family gathered at a Southeastern girls varsity game to show Delaney their appreciation, a feeling officials rarely experience. Before the game he stood at midcourt with daughters Amanda Holt and Jessica Hiser and three of his young grandchildren. His old friend and former fellow official, Rick Burton, was on the microphone as always at girls home games. He read appreciations written by Delaney’s daughters and by Southeastern athletic director Craig Isaac before telling some of his own stories about Delaney.

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“The thing they did for me the other night was unbelievable,” Delaney said. “I struggled … there were a lot of tears.”

Delaney called his final game with friends, the father-son duo of Dave and Chris Saunders. Another 15 or so officials and former officials were in attendance. And Delaney received countless texts and phone calls from others. “It’s like a fraternity,” he said.

Delaney said after 40 years his legs can’t take it anymore. He worked seven games this season — not close to the typical four or five a week he used to work. “I don’t want to be the guy who can’t do it,” he said. “I just knew it was time.” And after all the family time he’s missed, he said, “It’s time to be a dad and a grandpa.” Delaney also has four step-daughters and seven step-grandchildren, many of whom were in attendance.

One of Delaney’s old officiating friends, Steve Parks, called games for 34 years and many of them with Delaney. Parks has been assigning games as well for 30 years. He said good officials like Delaney are getting more difficult to find as fewer and fewer people are taking up the whistle.

“Rick was wanted everywhere,” Parks said. “He’s just a super-friendly official, really talented, very dedicated. He’s a very likable guy. You’ll never hear another official say anything bad about Rick. Whenever I worked with him we always had a great time. He’s a really good friend.”

Delaney went to Wilmington College to be a catcher. When he graduated in 1980 he continued in the family plumbing business to this day. But while in school his baseball coach was also in charge of intramurals and asked Delaney and Burton to officiate basketball. They went to Southeastern games on weekends and watched the officials. And so began a career that put him in situations he never imagined.

He called games at a combined 11 boys and girls state tournaments. And along the way he got into football and volleyball for the past 25-plus years and worked two football state finals and five or six volleyball finals. Delaney also worked many games with his wife Pam, who officiated for 27 years. When high school basketball added a third official he would often work games with Pam and friend Steve Grove.

Delaney hasn’t found it easy to walk away. He quit basketball at the end of last January. But he started feeling better during football season, so he tried basketball again. He hasn’t decided if we will continue to work football and volleyball in the fall.

“The longer you do it the thicker skin you get,” he said. “And you know you’re out there to have fun with your partner and do the best job you can.”

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