MONROE — For 32 years, Monroe’s Tim Wheatley spent many a night trying not to be the center of attention as a high-school basketball official.
Tonight the spotlight is on him.
Wheatley be officially inducted tonight into the Washington Officials Association Hall of Fame at the organization’s annual conference in Yakima.
“You couldn’t find a guy with better integrity than Tim,” Snohomish County official Mike Cashman said. “Almost to a fault. He’s one of those special guys that I don’t know of anybody that doesn’t like him.”
Upon learning of the honor, Wheatley was humbled.
“My first reaction was surprise,” Wheatley said. “I got the letter in the mail and I opened it up and I was like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ In one sense, I call it the longevity award because you have to have officiated 30 years. But there are other officials who have officiated 30 years or more. There are quite a few in this state who have done that. But I was humbled by the fact that I’m being inducted.”
The fact is, Wheatley is more than deserving.
Including high school regionals and community college games, Wheatley officiated 16 state tournaments and worked two state championship games. At one time, he was both the WOA’s No. 1 rated boys and girls official. He has received the WOA Meritorious Service Award and has served as president of both the Boys Basketball Association and Girls Basketball Board.
“I always feel that whatever a person does, they need to do the best they can do,” Wheatley said. “In other words, you have to bring excellence and integrity to what you are doing especially when you are providing a service.”
He also was instrumental in creating the rating system for officials that is still used today.
Officiating began for Wheatley in 1977. Living in southern Idaho with his wife, Wheatley decided to try his hand at the craft for a very different reason than most officials would claim.
“There is a saying in officiating nowadays and I’ve heard it for years, it says, ‘you don’t get in this for the money,’” Wheatley said. “I understand that because it is not something that is going to pay well at entry levels. But I got in it for the money because I was in Idaho and my wife was teaching school and I was going back for a second degree and we needed money for milk, bread and eggs.”
It wasn’t much money. Wheatley started at just $10 a game, but it helped bring in the extra necessities.
The idea to begin officiating had been planted in his head during a competitive game when he was younger.
“I was playing a rec league game here in Monroe one time and I was really frustrated with the officiating and I talked to one of the officials and I found out that he did high school officiating and so forth and I just thought, ‘You know, I think I can do that,’” Wheatley said.
Wheatley spent one year teaching and coaching in Idaho before relocating back to Monroe. After one year teaching in Bothell, he eventually settled into a teaching job in Monroe, all the while refereeing on the side.
Wheatley said it was some early success that kept his interest in officiating. He got to work varsity games in much less time than most young officials and even moved up to the college ranks in his third year on the job.
Wheatley recalled getting a phone call to referee a basketball game at Stanwood High School between Stanwood and Sedro Woolley for a spot in districts.
“I was so naive to a lot of the part (of scheduling officials),” Wheatley said. “It was later that I realized each coach had been given an opportunity to select an official, and the Stanwood coach who was Paul Johnson, he wanted me to officiate — which I thought was really odd because he yelled at me all the time.
“Later I asked him about that and he said, ‘Well, I thought you were the best official.’”
Johnson was just one of many Snohomish County coaches Wheatley enjoyed working with in his career.
“Through the bulk of the years that I officiated I really enjoyed working with Snohomish County high school coaches,” Wheatley said. “They were competitive. They were good coaches. They were, as I felt, persons of integrity. And in working with them, in my opinion as an official, if you were honest and straight forward. They respected you.”
The accomplishment that Wheatley is most proud of in his officiating career is bridging the gap between the boys and girls associations. Wheatley, who was one of few officials that worked both boys and girls games, said there was a sentiment among his peers in his early years that you couldn’t be a good boys official if you also officiated girls games.
“I kind of went on a crusade, in my own heart, that female athletes are as important as male athletes,” Wheatley said.
It took time, but slowly the two organizations began to work more closely together and more and more officials began to officiate both boys and girls games.
“I would like to think that the fact that I did it and modeled it and the fact that more and more officials started to do both has led to the point that we can have the same quality of officials and they can do both and it doesn’t hurt the other group,” Wheatley said.
While Wheatley is impressed with the progress made over the years, what he would like to see happen is the two organizations merge into one — something Wheatley might also get the opportunity to see.
“When he was president we finally had joint meetings together,” Cashman said. “We did a lot of our joint training together. We never did that before he got involved. Now, we are getting closer to working on a consolidation to where we will just have one group and Tim was kind of the catalyst behind that.”
Wheatley praised how far officials in Snohomish County have come since he started his career and said the county is home today to some of the best officials in the state. On the day he is honored for his career, Wheatley gave credit to those officials he worked so closely with for so long.
“I really feel like this honor and this award wouldn’t be possible without the other officials in the county through the years,” Wheatley said. “In other words, I want them to be a part of this in some way.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at alommers @heraldnet.com.