October 3, 2013

Take His Whistle

Recent retiree Butch West recalls the best and worst of four decades as an official

by Bill Tanton | LaxMagazine.com

A version of this article appears in the October 2013 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

It's going to take a while for Butch West to get used to this. After 40 years of officiating, he and his striped shirt and whistle have been retired.

Although Butch earns his living as an attorney in private practice in Baltimore, he somehow found time to work 2,000 games. That's not a typographical error.

"Look at it this way," he told me recently. "I did 20-25 college games every year, 15-20 high school games, 15 club games...times 40 years. Plus I did five years in Major League Lacrosse. That comes to around 2,000 games."

West worked a full schedule through last season, his final assignment being the Cornell-Ohio State NCAA quarterfinal playoff at College Park, Md., in May. So why quit now?

"I just turned 70," he said, "and I'd rather run off the field than be carried off."

There's more truth than poetry in that. West was on the crew at the Navy-Georgetown game in 2005 when fellow official Scott Boyle had a heart attack and died on the field.

That was his worst day.

Amazingly, West also could point to the one game he felt was the best, even though it was 24 years ago.

"Syracuse-Hopkins, 1989, regular-season game," West said. "A one-goal game. (Hopkins won 14-13.) It was played by a lot of great players before a big crowd at Homewood. I worked with Rich Tamberrino and Jack Tucker (father of current Boston Cannons coach John Tucker).

"We called two technical fouls all day, one on each team. When we walked off the field, I thought, 'Wow, what a game!' And we felt we had done a great job. We were invisible."

Invisibility is the ultimate achievement for officials in any sport. The best thing they can hear after a game: "Who were the officials?"

I asked Butch whom he considers the best officials in the game today. He rattled off a half-dozen names, not wishing to slight any of his deserving colleagues. But the first one he mentioned was Tamberrino.

How about coaches? Who was the worst? I've known Butch for many years. He's too much of a gentleman to lose a friend by ripping a coach now. "Actually," he said, "most of the coaches are really good guys."

I knew he meant it.

Who was the best?

"John Danowski at Duke," West said.

Then he quickly added Dave Urick at Georgetown, Dom Starsia at Virginia, Joe Breschi at North Carolina and "the new guy at Maryland," John Tillman. Of UMBC coach Don Zimmerman, the NCAA's secretary-rules editor for men's lacrosse, West added: "Zim doesn't say a whole lot to the officials, but when he does say something, you can be pretty sure something went wrong."

Best player he was ever on the field with?

"Gary Gait," West said.

Rules? West thinks the new NCAA rules for 2013 were "great because they cut down on stalling." But he believes eventually adding a conventional, visible shot clock is "only natural as coaches stress possession and control."

West had no idea how much officiating would affect his life for the next four decades when as a law student at Washington & Lee, he was recruited by the late Hall of Famer Bob Sandell, then the assigning official in Virginia.

Butch will miss officiating. The game will miss him too.

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