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Published: Friday, 2/20/2009

Basketball referee was supervisor of MAC officials

TEMPERANCE - James H. Desmond, 77, a star pitcher in high school who became a respected college basketball referee and supervisor of basketball officials for the Mid-American Conference, died of cancer Wednesday in his home.

He was inducted last year into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame. "He was very proud of being chosen," his son Tim said. "It was a great honor for him."

In 1998, he was in the first class of inductees to the Northwest Ohio District Basketball Officials Association Hall of Fame. The next year, the Ohio Association of Basketball Officials presented him the Jack McLain Award for meritorious service and outstanding contribution.

Mr. Desmond in 1985 left behind a quarter-century of running up and down basketball courts, high school and college, when he was named MAC supervisor of basketball officials. He held the post until 1996.

He attended at least two basketball games a week during the season. In the off-season, he attended at least six basketball camps, just to watch the officials. A corps of scouts sent him regular reports.

But he had a firm rule: "I won't hire a guy until I've seen him work myself," Mr. Desmond told The Blade in 1991.

Travel was one reason Mr. Desmond gave up officiating, he told The Blade in 2007.

"Plus being away from home and missing a lot of things weighed on me too," he told The Blade. "But it turned out that, with all the assignments I had to make and the work involved, I ended up traveling more [as supervisor of officials] than when I was an official."

He got his start by taking a high school officiating course at the University of Toledo in 1960. He worked Catholic Youth Organization games and, for years, high school games. He officiated several times at state basketball finals.

He began working Division I and Division II college basketball in 1966 and concentrated on the MAC and home games of independent schools assigned by the MAC office, according to the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame Web site.

"Having a rapport with the players is important," Mr. Desmond told The Blade in 2007. "Communication is important, and a good official has to know what to call, and when to call it."

He also worked at the tournament level, officiating at National Invitation Tournament games and NCAA championship games at the Division II and III levels.

The 1978 NIT semi-final game in which Rutgers beat Indiana State, 57-56, brought some attention to Mr. Desmond. Rutgers' winning basket came with 17 seconds left. When time ran out, the Indiana State coach and star forward Larry Bird charged Mr. Desmond, claiming Mr. Bird had been fouled. Mr. Desmond said contact came after the buzzer.

"We have a picture of him right next to Larry Bird," his son said. "Larry Bird was arguing with him. My dad won that [argument]."

Mr. Desmond, who grew up in West Toledo, was a pitcher for Central Catholic High School's baseball team. During an 11-inning championship game, he struck out 23 batters. He also played Federation baseball in Toledo.

He pitched for Eastern Michigan University and the University of Toledo, from which he received a bachelor's degree in business administration and personnel management in 1954.

He was in the Army during the Korean War, pitching for an Army division team that played professional and other military teams.

The Detroit Tigers and the Boston Braves offered him a contract. He even went to spring training with the Tigers.

"He decided [professional baseball] wasn't the life for him," his son said.

Mr. Desmond went to work for General Motors in 1956 at what is now the Toledo Powertrain Plant. He was supervisor of employment for 15 years. From 1985 until his retirement in 1991, he was supervisor of employee and public relations.

He was a former member of St. Clement Church.

Surviving are his wife, Sue, whom he married Oct. 2, 1954; daughters, Donna Wells, Joanne Segura, and Brenda Mack; sons, Tim and Tom; brother, Dr. Robert Desmond; 18 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

The body will be in the Michael W. Pawlak Funeral Home, Temperance, after 2 p.m. Sunday, with Scripture services at 5 p.m. in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Temperance, where the body will be after 10 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where he was a member.



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