OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HERO: Levi remains face in local hoops officiating circles

MARTINS FERRY — Growing up, Roger Levi enjoyed basketball.

So, when he was a student at Ohio University in Athens, he registered for an elective course on officiating.

“It was actually a five-week course in football and a five-week course in basketball,” Levi remembered. “I got certified in both.”

Soon, Levi and his buddies were working intramurals around campus and the like. Little did he know, however, that officiating would play a major role in his life.

As it turned out, Levi carved out quite an officiating career in Eastern Ohio, one that led to his induction into the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Officials Hall of Fame.

Levi was a steady presence in gyms throughout the Ohio Valley until a few years ago when time caught up to his body. His knees were wearing out and he, frankly, wasn’t enjoying himself anymore.

Although he had to step away from something he loved prematurely following 44 years, Levi remains a fixture in the local officiating family — behind the scenes.

As the secretary/treasurer for the local officials’ association, Levi remains heavily involved with a vocation that he said changed his life.

“Officiating was great to me in so many ways that I just wanted to give back,” he said.

“It was just so great … the people I met, the coaches, the other officials. I just enjoyed officiating, period.”

Levi spent years in the teaching profession, retiring more than a decade ago from a middle school position in Tiltonsville — his hometown. He’s also labored in the mill, the Army reserve and even spent a year as an assistant basketball coach at Jewett. Many folks around the area recognize him as a basketball official, though, and, for him it was a labor of love.

“I liked it,” he said. “The fans, the way they carried on sometimes, that never seemed to bother me.

“I only had one goal and that was to officiate up at the arena.”

That being St. John Arena in Steubenville. For years, Levi said, he would go to games there, and remembers fondly the days when the venerable venue would play host to, perhaps, two games a night, six-days-a-week during March.

Levi got the opportunity to work there, and much more.

“Everything after that was just gravy,” he said.

Along the way, Levi worked boys’ and girls’ finals in Ohio and West Virginia. That helped lead to his HOF induction in 2008.

“That was a tremendous honor,” he recalled. “I was very humbled and honored to be inducted into that.”

Levi said he’s also been blessed to have worked with so many talented peers throughout the years, many of whom have become great friends.”

“I remember guys like John Howell, Warren Hood and Ron White,” he said. “We’d take long trips and there’d be a special bond created between you and the other officials. You have to depend on each other in so many ways to get through the tough games.”

Levi said he isn’t one to tutor up-and-coming officials, but he stressed the need is certainly there for officials. He hopes younger folks will give the job a shot.

“I’d encourage anyone, if you want to stay around the sport and you think you could help out, to try it out. You might find that you like it.

“Once you get that bug, it becomes a part of you.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1