CLASSIC REDUX: Six Degrees of Referreeing — The one guy who ran the floor with the Centaurs and made it to the big time

Posted on Nov 21, 2013

Madison Square Garden. Mid-1980s. I am there watching a St. John’s basketball game. The whistle sounds, and I follow the ball as it gets thrown to the ref.

Wait! I know that guy! The referee! I mean, I know who he is. His name comes immediately:  Jody Silvester. He used to ref our Centaur games at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, and now here he is … at Madison Square Garden.

From then on, when watching college games on TV, I’d  check the referees. Jody appeared regularly. He reffed until 2000, worked 22 NCAA tournaments, four Final Fours and two Championship Games – Indiana-Syracuse 1987, Duke-Arkansas 1994.

When Jody retired, Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated wrote a terrific valedictory: “…[T]here may be no greater testament to him than the fact that most coaches respect him, but fans have never heard of him.”

Yeah, well, we Centaurs have heard of him.

* * * * *   ‘SIX DEGREES …’ CONTINUES BELOW   * * * * *

Welcome to a CENTAUR SEASONS “Classic Redux.” Every day from October 15 (March Madness!) through Thanksgiving Centaur Seasons is reposting shortened versions of last year’s efforts. (Click here to read today’s original.)  Come December, CENTAUR SEASONS II will tip off with brand-new Centaur stories.

* * * * *  NOW, BACK TO ‘SIX DEGREES …’  * * * * *  

“The guy to get info from is Maz,” Jerry Wilkinson wrote me, referring to his senior year roommate and co-captain, the fiery Tony Mazzeo.  “Jody controlled the games with his calm, knowledgeable demeanor. We were happy to see him walk in the gym. But when you controlled our games that means you controlled Maz.”

Ironically, Maz himself became a well-regarded soccer referee. So maybe he knew better than the rest of us when he emailed: “In some small way, I am convinced that we helped him in his craft. You can’t get to the top without experiencing the bumps, bruises and ‘school of hard knocks’ referee knowledge that our scrappy, do-or-die effort teams offered him.”

Coincidentally, Jody got one of his first big-time calls, working the hallowed Palestra of Philadelphia, the year after Maz graduated.

Now I am on the phone telling these stories to Jody Silvester. He’s 76, retired nearly 20 years ago as the postmaster of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, over the mountain from Center Valley, where he still lives with his wife, Helen.

I don’t know if this will make any sense, I tell him, but I think it does to all of us who were reffed by him, at tiny Allentown College: It was us who got him there — the Garden, the big time. He used to work our games and then he went Big East, Atlantic 10, BIG 10. And there was a part of us out there running the floor with him.

I stop, the gushing over. Then: “I don’t know if you can understand that,” I say, “but there’s just no other way for me to say it.”

Silence on the phone. Finally, Jody says quietly, “That’s really nice. I appreciate it.”

So now I force the action: Do you remember the Centaurs? 

“Wow,” he says, “you’re really testing my memory!”

I recite the games with his name in the scorebook.  I mention players. I say the name Tony Mazzeo. “That one rings a bell, yeah,” Jody says.

But mostly, no.  “It’s easier for you guys to remember me,” he says. As for him: “There’s been thousands of players.”

But here’s the thing, he says, perhaps sensing my disappointment. “No matter whether there were 75 people in the stands [Billera!] or 25,000 people, my philosophy was that those kids had been practicing every day of the week and to go out there and lollygag around, that wasn’t my style. Every game to me was important — a 25,000 Division I big-time game, or DeSales – that’s the way I always refereed.  That’s the only way it can be, no matter who’s playing.”

Even when “just” the Centaurs?

“You gotta start somewhere,” he tells me. “And you never forget where you came from.”

COMING FRIDAY: FORGOTTEN CENTAUR(ettes): THAT THEY WON NO GAMES DOESN’T MATTER; THAT NO ONE REMEMBERS DOES

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Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.

Once, I was a Centaur.

I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.

My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee.  One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)

But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.

So starting November 30  “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS

A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.

Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.

We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?

Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields.  Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.

What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.

All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS.

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