Above & beyond

Recalling when MacTavish received IAABO’s highest honor

OBSERVER File Photo by Scott Kindberg In this August 2019 file photo, longtime basketball official Roger MacTavish, far right, is joined by friends, from th eleft, Russ Ecklund, Dae Polechetti and Jack Fulford at the Chautauqua Sports Hal l of Fame picnic at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club. Ecklund and fulford are also former basketball officials, while Polechetti is the former Fredonia Central School boys varsity basketball coach.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article first saw the light of day on April 10, 2004 in recognition of area resident Roger MacTavvish’s decades-long dedication to basketball officiating.

Deep in a file cabinet in The Post-Journal sports department are a bunch of folders arranged alphabetically.

In one folder — marked with an “M” — is a photo of a young man, not yet out of his teens, wearing a Hornell baseball uniform and cap. He’s staring into the camera from a catcher’s crouch.

Typed on the back are the following words: Roger MacTavish, Celoron, Hornell catcher 1953.

“He was a good catcher,” said friend Wally Huckno of Jamestown, “but he couldn’t hit the curveball.”

More than 50 years later, the good-field, no-hit MacTavish, who never made it out of the PONY League, has reached the pinnacle of his true passion — basketball officiating.

The West Ellicott resident, who was profiled by P-J sports editor Jim Riggs in a column last December, will be honored with the Life Membership Award from the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials at an induction ceremony next Saturday at the Grosvenor Hotel in Orlando, Fla.

MacTavish is one of six basketball officials to be so honored by the association. The Life Membership Award is the highest honor IAABO can bestow on one if its members.

“They seem to covet the award quite closely,” said Huckno, who was IAABO Board 39’s secretary until his recent retirement. “They don’t hand them out with relish.”

Actually, Huckno and IAABO Board 39 president Tom Heppeler of Jamestown have tried to get MacTavish inducted for quite some time. They were finally notified nearly a year ago that they had been successful.

“They normally don’t recognize someone unless they’re really extraordinary on the floor,” Huckno said. “In Roger’s case, besides his extraordinary officiating, he’s been such a prolific interpreter for IAABO throughout the nation.”

MacTavish, who has officiated basketball since 1951, is, among other things, the chairman of the Rules Examination Committee. That means that he is responsible for making up a refresher test and a candidate’s test for all IAABO members and potential members. The 70-year-old MacTavish also makes up the exam that all NCAA basketball officials have to take.

“I’ve been fortunate and privileged to work with the giants of the game only because people have allowed me to do it,” MacTavish said. “I would never have been able to meet these people without IAABO.”

Huckno is just as quick to credit MacTavish for all he’s done for officiating on the local level.

“Through Roger’s diligence, the board has, each year, kept up a high degree of proficiency,” Huckno said. “He constantly goes over the rules in our meetings, the interpretations and throws situations out for discussion. He never minimizes any question you might have. No question is too dumb.

“Beyond that, I don’t know what Board 39 will do for an interpreter. Everybody is replaceable, but, gracious, he’s the dean. He always has the answer and it’s going to be the right answer.”

Beyond the technical aspects of the game, Huckno credits MacTavish with taking young officials under his wing and helping them get acclimated to game conditions.

“I worked my first varsity game with him,” Huckno said. “I would say it was in 1976-77, a triple overtime game in Falconer. I was completely out to lunch. I think back, thank God, I was with Roger. I’ll never forget it. When the fourth quarter ended, I thought the game was over and I wondered why we were still there. I was so caught up in the game itself

One could rightfully argue that MacTavish is “caught up in the game,” having spent the last six decades officiating as much as nine months each year.

That’s a lot of basketball.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it,” MacTavish said. “I’ve been reluctant to yield to the march of time. I know someday it’s going to end. It’s going to be a sad day.”

For now, though, he has no plans to slow down. He and his wife, Marion, will leave for Orlando on Sunday.

“This is supposed to be the highest honor IAABO can bestow on you,” MacTavish said. “It’s nice that they are doing that, but I don’t like a lot of publicity. I just like to be sort of private. I prefer other people getting it more than myself.”


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