By Steve Williams
Longtime basketball official Steve Pyatt suffered a heart attack Jan. 10, 2015. That put him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season, but he wasn’t done.
Pyatt still had more miles in his legs, more whistles to blow, more boos to ignore and more fun to have.
Officiating is a labor of love for Pyatt, like it is for most longtime officials. Why else would you stay in it for so long?
Pyatt joined the TSSAA in the fall of 1975 and became a member of the Knox-Ridge Basketball Officials Association that year. By 1986 he had worked his way up to be selected to officiate in his first state tournament.
He also worked in the 1988 state tourney and toiled as a major college referee for 31 years, working mostly in Conference USA but also in the Ohio Valley, Southern and Sunbelt conferences.
Two nights before his heart attack he was working at The Citadel in a crew that included Ted Valentine, a well-known official in the college ranks.
Based on what Pyatt told me, working on the major college level can be a grind.
“Starting in November, officials work three to four times per week and every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday,” he said.
The travel takes a toll.
“Everybody gets tired,” he added. “That’s why most get out of it. You’re up at 2:45 in the morning to catch a flight at 5:30 or 6. Then you get a rental car and there’s a two-hour drive to Lawrence or Omaha.
“They earn their money. Many do not have a regular job.”
The first season after his heart attack, Pyatt, who owns an insurance agency in Clinton, got an opportunity to stay in the game using his eyes and years of knowledge and experience. He worked as a “Secret Shopper type” evaluator for the TSSAA.
“Not many people know this, but we have a program in our state where we use qualified people to go to games and evaluate officials we are considering to work in the state tournament without those prospects knowing it,” said Gene Menees, an Assistant Executive Director of the TSSAA whose areas of responsibility include basketball officials.
“When I asked Steve if he would like to do this he said, ‘I would love to do that because I love high school basketball and officiating.’”
Pyatt returned to the court in 2016-17, working high school, junior college and NAIA level games. He also worked in some district and region tournaments.
“The number one thing I would like to say about Steve is he’s an outstanding individual,” said Menees. “He came up through the high school ranks and had an outstanding college career.
“After coming back from his health issue, he worked some middle school and JV games. It speaks very highly of someone who has come back to where they started after advancing to the highest level in their field.”
Pyatt’s comeback was rewarded this past season as the TSSAA selected him to work in the boys’ state tournament. On top of that, he was chosen to be the lead referee in the Class AAA championship game between Memphis East and Memphis Whitehaven.
“Steve is a very good play caller,” said Menees. “He uses good signals and mechanics. And he knows how to handle people quickly and professionally when situations come up in a game.”
This year’s state tournament benefitted from Pyatt’s presence.
The Steve Pyatt I know though would tell you he was the one most blessed by being there. His entire season, he said, was a joy.
“I had more fun this year than in 30 years,” said Pyatt. “I really don’t know why. But it was more satisfying and I looked forward to the games. It’s more recreation than a job now from my standpoint than in the past.”
Pyatt had been there, done that and had a T-shirt, but he hadn’t stopped loving it.