There may be a few old-timers from Reading/Berks who might not agree with me, but the 1970s were great years for basketball officiating in the area. We had Tom Kranis and George Zeppos (known as “The Greeks”), Mike Schorn, Tim Braun, Jack Slusser, my dad, John Carl, Barry Sherman, Ed Tobias, etc. Among them was Bobby Heebner.
Mr. Heebner and my dad were frequent officiating partners during the District 3 playoffs and Inter-district playoffs. They’d take refs from Berks County to referee in Harrisburg or Scranton … They’d send York officials to Reading and the Philly suburbs … Harrisburg refs did Lancaster games, and so on.
My dad would often carpool with Mr. Heebner for out-of-area games, and most of the time I was in the backseat, tagging along to a game. Mr. Heebner was strong, really tough, and quiet. He was known as a guy you didn’t want to mess with. Mr. Heebner was a good partner to have … most of the time.
There’s a rule among officials that after a game is over, you depart the court together. No exceptions. You walk onto the court as a team — you and your partner — and you left the court as a team. It didn’t matter how you departed. You could run, walk, scamper, strut, whatever. Just don’t leave without the other.
My dad and Mr. Heebner had a lot of big high school games over the years and there was a game I remember involving Harrisburg or Chambersburg, maybe Steelton, I can’t all the way remember. But it was packed house at Shippensburg, and it was a tight game and the crowd was getting into it. Of course, there’s a call at the end, leaving half the gym angry and pissed off.
As the game is coming to a close, more and more disgruntled fans are gathering nearer to the court. Emotions were running, high, but not Mr. Heebner’s. As the final buzzer sounds, pops finds himself at midcourt while Mr. Heebner is under one of the baskets — the far basket from the officials dressing room.
Some fans are kind-of storming the court and other fans are just plain hot because their team lost. My dad sees the situation and observes Mr. Heebner casually strolling through the mob gathering on the court. The throng was growing. Pops was ready to skedaddle. Not Mr. Heebner.
As Mr. Heebner approached my dad at halfcourt, my dad expected to break into a jog toward the locker room. Mr. Heebner didn’t break stride. “Bobby,” my dad said. “Let’s go! Let’s get out of here.”
“I will never run off of a basketball court,” Mr. Heebner replied. “Never.” Mr. Heebner left the court on his own terms. Like I said, I always remember him as being strong as an ox but understated and humble. I thought he was a damn good ref. He ran enough during a game, I guess. He wasn’t going to run after it.
There’s another story about Mr. Heebner that I’d only heard — never witnessed. It involves Cicero Lassiter, a Reading city league legend, who apparently challenged Mr. Heebner to a fight after a summer league game. When Mr. Heebner started taking Lassiter up on it, Lassiter said: “You’ve got that striped shirt on. If you didn’t have that shirt on, I’d take your head off.”
Mr. Heebner removed the whistle from around his neck and casually took off his refereeing jersey. “I don’t have my shirt on now,” Mr. Heebner said. The fight was cancelled.