For the Love of the Game, Referee Ron McEwen

Published 10:04 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

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BY C.Y. Peters

Referee Ron McEwen has spent a significant portion of his life on the basketball court, softball and the football field, making crucial calls and ensuring the games ran smoothly. I asked him how he got into officiating, and he told me his story.


“I was in the 8th grade in Jr. High school and played basketball for West Jr. High in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Our coach Mr. Plamer, who was the gym teacher, got me out of study hall to referee basketball games for the 7th grade gym class. I fell in love with that part of the game. While in college I played, and refereed intramural games. After college, I continued to work recreational basketball and softball. One of the referees I worked with told me that I should get involved with the TSSAA and I did. The rest is history.”


“I retired from working basketball in 2000 and was asked to work as a coordinator helping new officials learn the rules and how to officiate the game. I also was working football at that time and have continued to do so to this day. Someone once told me that basketball officiating is hard work and football is fun and they are right.”


However, in 2019, his back started to bother him, causing him immense discomfort during each game. By 2020, the pain had become unbearable, and Ron approached Jim Cradic, the state supervisor and Assigning Officer, asking to step away from the field. Ron didn’t want to quit refereeing entirely; instead, he took on the role of working the clock for varsity and middle school games, a less physically demanding task. Ron officiated middle school, freshman and JV games from the comfort of the timekeeper’s booth until 2022 when he finally decided to undergo back surgery.


After the surgery and a period of recovery, Ron joined a Senior Golf League in March of 2023. He felt reinvigorated and was eager to regain his fitness. As the 2023 football season rolled around, Jim Cradic, the Assigning Officer, called him with a proposition – to return to the field as a side judge in some games. Ron agreed without hesitation. He missed being out there, and the prospect of returning to the gridiron filled him with excitement. The following week, he had the opportunity to officiate the Morristown East and West game in Morristown. The next week he was sent to the Daniel Boone-Westridge game. It felt like a reunion with an old friend.


This past week, Ron found himself at the center of the action as the head referee for the Unaka and Hancock County game. His enthusiasm was palpable, and he shared his thoughts with a grin, “I may not beat them to the end-zone on a long run, but I’ll be near the five when they score.”


Ron’s officiating journey began in Jr. high school in Tullahoma and then Florida, where he spent six years before making his way to Tennessee. In 1980, he joined the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), where he officiated basketball, football and Baseball/Softball. Among his cherished memories in basketball was a Sullivan South game at Elizabethton. It was a nail-biting contest, with only one foul called in the first half and two in the second. South had the last shot, missed, and Elizabethton emerged victorious.


Ron remembered the games with Happy Valley, especially when he was instructed by the legendary coach Charlie Bayless to keep the assistant coaches in check.


Apart from sports, Ron is a minister. He has been preaching since the age of 15 and served as an associate pastor in Kingsport for 25 years, with a decade dedicated to youth ministry in two other churches. For the past 14 years, he has been the guiding voice at the Church of God in Johnson City. “God really loves us,” Ron would say. “We all make mistakes, but God wants us to do the best we can and serve Him.”


Ron’s personal life had its own love story. He met Linda, the love of his life, in Kingsport in 1974. She played the organ for the church services. A friend told him to get a date and come to his house for a cookout and Ron mustered the courage to ask her out on a date. A year later, they exchanged vows and embarked on a journey together that lasted for decades.


In the 1980s, Ron enjoyed officiating the Unaka-University High basketball games. The gyms would be packed, and the rivalry was intense. Snavely coached Unaka, and the games felt like battles, with Ron making sure everything ran smoothly on the court.


Throughout his career, Ron had officiated in several championship games, numerous playoff matches, and has even been part of the state basketball tournaments. His love for sports and his commitment to his faith had made him a respected figure in his community, both on and off the court and field. Ron McEwen’s return to football refereeing was not just about making calls; it was a testament to his resilience, passion, and love for the game.