After 50 years, Dawes blows final whistle
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
If there would be one word Don Dawes would like to be remembered by during his days -- and decades -- of refereeing high school football and basketball, it would be consistency.
"If it's a foul at the beginning of the game, it's a foul at the end of the game," said Dawes, who has been running up and down the turf and hardwood in northwest Kansas for 50 years.
"People say, 'Refs shouldn't decide the game,' " he said in reference to refs not blowing the whistle toward the end of a close game. "If you don't make the call, you're deciding the game."
Dawes donned his black-and-white striped ref's shirt for the final time in a first-round boys' game of last week's Class 1A Division II state basketball championships at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.
Don't think he took it easy in that game, though. The 73-year-old Dawes got up and down the court as well as anyone, keeping up with the likes of the high-octane Sharon Springs team, and he even called two technical fouls on Colony-Crest during the contest.
As to be expected, Dawes got an earful from the Crest fans, but don't think he is sitting around thinking about those calls, or anything else that pertains to basketball for that matter.
A day after being recognized at the state tournament in Hays for his years of service, Dawes helped deliver seven calves in his Angus herd in blizzard-like conditions Sunday on his farm near Brewster.
His wife, Phyllis, probably also has a list of things to get done around the house.
"She's been bugging me to quit for the last five, six years," he said of his wife, who helped raise four children, including a son who wrestled. "I told her that once I quit, I'm going to sit in my easy chair and bug her."
Dawes, a football and basketball player at Brewster High School during the 1950s, started refereeing intramural football and basketball games at Kansas State University, where he was working on a degree in education.
"You worked three games a night for a dollar game; that was big money," Dawes said with a laugh.
He paused and added, "It wasn't the best, but back then things didn't cost so much. You get four gallons of gas for a dollar."
His adviser at K-State encouraged Dawes to get registered with the state activities association, and he worked a few high school games in the Manhattan area while still in college.
After graduating from KSU in the early 1960s, Dawes taught and coached at Brewster and Goodland for several years upon his return to western Kansas, coaching Brewster to the Class BB state championship in 1968. He refereed junior high games while he coached and continued to ref at the high school level even after going into farming full time.
"I had a lot of fun doing it, or I wouldn't have kept doing it," he said.
Dawes worked with a slew of partners through the years.
"They'd quit, and I'd get another one," he said.
He said he prefers basketball, partly because of the controlled climate in a gym.
"I refereed a football game in a blizzard at Russell one year," he said of a 1985 eight-man state championship game. "We had a pea in our whistles back then, and the only way to keep it from freezing was to keep the whole whistle in your mouth. It wasn't much fun."
Dawes has on his list of accomplishments reffing in more than 35 state basketball tournaments and the distinction of working the only grand state basketball competition that included teams from all five classes, which was in Hays in 1976.
What Dawes said he will cherish the most, though, are the relationships he developed with fellow referees.
"I enjoyed the camaraderie with the officials in the area," he said. "We used to decide where to meet, and we would stop to eat together after all our ball games."
Dawes said he's been lucky to remain healthy and even kept officiating after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes approximately 25 years ago.
"My doctor said to keep refereeing, that the exercise was good for me," he said.
One of Dawes' former partners, Rollie Hallagin from Goodland, wasn't as lucky and had to quit nearly 10 years ago because of health issues.
"He likes to go to ball games just to watch," Dawes said. "So I think we'll probably go together to some games."
Dawes said he will continue to attend basketball games, but now from a different perspective. As a fan in the stands, he won't question a single call.
"That's a no-no," he said. "If you're a referee, you never disagree with the referee on the floor, because they see it from a different angle."