On the way back
to Nashville that night Wirtz asked Stout if he had heard about the official
who had been scheduled to work a University of Kentucky game a few days before.
He arrived in Lexington nice and early and was parked outside the Kentucky gym,
listening to his car radio. The announcer said that in an hour he would
broadcast the Kentucky game—from Freedom Hall in Louisville. The aghast
official drove the 75 miles from Lexington to Louisville in an hour, but even
so the game was delayed, and 17,000 waited while he got into his striped
nightmares about being in the wrong place," said Lennie. "it's a
what-do-you-call-it—a phobia." As things turned out, it was also almost a
speak-of-the-devil phobia. Early the next afternoon—it's Wednesday now, but
days and motel rooms and baggage checks and steak sandwiches are becoming a
blur—Lennie and I sat in Washington's National Airport waiting to go to
Charlottesville where he was going to work the University of Virginia-North
Carolina State game. In
The Washington Post
was the night's Atlantic Coast
basketball schedule. Virginia at North Carolina State, it said. I informed
"Cut it out,
pal. That's not funny. Let me see that thing," Lennie said nervously.
The plane was now
being called, so there was nothing to do but hope for a typographical error.
"I know I'm right. It's in my book. I know it's there," Lennie kept
muttering as the plane skimmed over the Blue Ridge to Charlottesville. He was
is one of those places where the crowd takes part in the game. Unlike the
Western Kentucky coeds, the gentlemen of Virginia cast not their eyes down, nor
do they blush. Their picturesque speech and the patter of thrown cups,
scorecards and heavier objects have made the Charlottesville gym one of the
notable snake pits of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
have seen what we [the crowd] did to Billy Cunningham [a North Carolina
All-America basketball player]. We got him good," a Virginian proudly told
me in a soft Tidewater drawl. "They grabbed him on the sidelines, shoved
him, spit on him," said George Conley, who had worked the game in question
and was also Lennie Wirtz's partner for the North Carolina State game. "I
told Cunningham I'd throw anybody out I could catch, but how are you going to
call them in the stands? There's enough happening on the floor."
The crowd abused
Conley and Wirtz for 40 minutes without drawing a response, but eventually a
North Carolina State zone press rattled Virginia more than the Virginia crowd
bothered State. The visitors won by six points, and Lennie had earned his $80.
By now I knew the etiquette of making postgame calls on basketball coaches—see
the winner first, it's safer. I found Press Maravich, the N.C. State coach,
understandably hospitable despite his ulcers, which he treats by chewing
tobacco. "If I win by a tenth of a point up here I'm happy," he said.
"Tough place to officiate, too, I suppose. I'll tell you one thing: that
Lennie calls them the same way at both ends of the court."
Virginia's Bill Gibson, was more cryptic. "I've never seen that Wirtz
before," he said, "but I'll say this: George Conley always works a good
On Thursday night
Davidson College of the Southern Conference was meeting New York University of
the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference in Madison Square Garden, and Lennie
came up from Charlottesville as the " Southern Conference man" to work
with Steve Honzo of the ECAC.
"How should I
know why they assign me?" Lennie asked rhetorically. "I guess they want
to see a familiar face in the big city. All I know is that the courts are all
94 by 50 feet. Charge, pick, hack. They look the same on Eighth Avenue as they
do in Iowa City."