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LITTLE PAL ON THE DEAD RUN
Bil Gilbert
March 01, 1965
Few men in sport move faster than Lennie Wirtz, a college basketball official who dashes breathlessly from airport to airport to meet his schedule but still saves enough wind to tweet on that whistle
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March 01, 1965

Little Pal On The Dead Run

Few men in sport move faster than Lennie Wirtz, a college basketball official who dashes breathlessly from airport to airport to meet his schedule but still saves enough wind to tweet on that whistle

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"I'm all set, but thanks," said Lennie. "Tough tonight."

"I thought we'd do better," Erickson said to no one in particular, and he walked slowly out into the Iowa night.

The thing that makes basketball coaches different from people was the subject of conversation early the next evening in a restaurant outside Bowling Green. We had reached this oasis by completing a quick 750-mile reverse pivot from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids by car, to Chicago and then Nashville by plane and to Bowling Green overland, driven by Art Guepe, the commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference. In Nashville the party was reinforced by Roy Stout, who had come up from a Mississippi State game the night before to handle the Western Kentucky-Murray State action with Wirtz.

Since the seminar was devoted to coaches and took place in Bowling Green, it automatically turned to Ed Diddle, the remarkably successful and colorful gentleman who, until his retirement last year, had directed the Western Kentucky teams since 1922.

"He's a great old man." said Stout. "I got him one night and he's on me bad. I come by the bench and he says, 'Mr. Referee, you're not ever going to work for me again. Not ever, Mr. Referee.' I told him I guessed I would just have to get all my licks in during the next 22 minutes while I still had the whistle. He busted out laughing."

Mr. Diddle aside (the retired coach now presides from a box seat on the floor where he serves as a cheerleader, second coach and third official), basketball has a lot going for it in Bowling Green. The new field house, E. A. Diddle Arena, rises bright, light and handsome over the college town, the crowds are enthusiastic but mannerly and the cheerleaders pretty. The basketball game was the closest of the week and the best. You could tell that the fans knew the difference between a hack and a hot dog.

At one critical point the dazzling line of Western Kentucky girls streamed onto the floor and began to lead a cheer built around the exhortation, "Give them hell, Western." The girls were met when they returned to their seats by a courtly member of the Western Kentucky faculty. "I just don't believe you all have considered how that sounds," he said. "Lovely young ladies cursing in public!" The lovely young ladies cast down their eyes and thereafter laid off the give-them-hell bit.

The crucial officiating moment came with less than three minutes remaining. Stewart Johnson, a 6-foot-8 Murray pivot man who had kept his team in the game with 15 field goals, drew his fifth personal foul on an illegal-pick call made under the basket by Roy Stout. With Johnson sobbing on the bench, Western Kentucky went on to win 71-70.

Later, in the officials' room, Stout had no doubts about the call. "I was there; the boy picked him. I'll make a call like that every time. You don't know how many fouls the boy has, how many points he has scored. All you know is you see a foul, and you blow the whistle."

In contrast to the air of exasperation after the wild Iowa-Wisconsin game of the night before, both Stout and Wirtz were obviously pleased with this one. "Pal," said Lennie, "I'll work one like this every night. They wanted to play ball. You can give them a good game."

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