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OHIO VALLEY UNSUNG HEROES: Rahi has used officiating as a coping method

WHEELING — Ramsey Rahi believes in keeping it light.

As a high school basketball official, Rahi, a native of Center Wheeling, knows things can get intense. Intense between the opposing teams, intense between players and officials, intense between officials and coaches, and, unfortunately too much lately, intense between officials and fans.

In the end, though, it’s a game. Ramsey treats it as such and does his best to maintain a fun atmosphere on any game he’s working, especially prep contests.

“You have to,” he cautioned. “I like to kind of lighten up the tension that builds up. If you’re not having fun, you have to get out.”

And anyone that’s seen Rahi work a game — whether it be at Union Local, Barnesville, or any other place locally — knows that he brings a light-hearted approach to his job. He treats it seriously, while at the same time maintaining a level of lightheartedness that keeps everyone at ease.

Rahi’s approach has connected with many, so much so, he has been honored as the District 12 Official of the Year.

It’s a welcome honor for a man who enjoys his time on the court, a place that has become a sanctuary, of sorts, since his wife of 26 years, Tina, died in October following a long battle with cancer.

Rahi said he had no doubts about returning to the hardwood following Tina’s death. In fact, working games helped him deal with his grief.

“I needed the support of it,” he said. “And, as crazy as it may sound, I needed to be out there getting support from my fellow officials and getting yelled at by the fans.

With two grown daughters — Kylie and Kayla — who no longer live at home, officiating gave Rahi a respite.

“I definitely knew I had to do something every night,” he said. “It’s tough. You go to dinner by yourself and you do things on your own.”

But Rahi’s fellow officials have been more than simply co-workers. They’ve been friends and pillars of strength in a time of need.

“They’ve been amazing, every one of them,” Rahi said of his fellow officials. “Not everyone likes everyone, but everyone has said whatever they can do, they’ll do.”

Rahi described his wife’s funeral, which many of his officiating brethren attended. That meant a great deal to him.

“We’re a tight-knit group” he said. “When someone loses a loved one, everyone feels for them. It could be a mother, or a father, a son, a daughter … or a spouse.”

Like many other professions, officials bond closely, something Rahi said has been a great comfort.

“You have to have each other’s back,” he said. “The bottom line is you’re out there with a lot of people and it’s just you three. Everyone supports each other. You have to.”

Rahi has been officiating hoops in Ohio for 30 years and in West Virginia for 28. He also has worked football games for 17 years and, for the last four, prep lacrosse, which is growing locally, especially in West Virginia high schools.

“I love that sport,” he beamed. “It’s a blast. I wish they had it when I was growing up.”

Basketball is Rahi’s bread and butter, though. Even though the prep season is wining down, Rahi keeps busy — he works up to four nights a week — with other types of basketball, including games in the American basketball Association, a semi-pro league that has a myriad of teams in the region, including Akron. He’s also worked college games.

As a seasoned veteran, Rahi has now turned his attention to helping younger officials hone their craft.

“The last two or three years, the local board has made a commitment to having an actual mentoring program,” Rahi explained. ‘It works very well. There’s a lot of younger officials that are becoming very, very good and are going to be good. It’s a really nice situation.”

Rahi cited Jimmy Schmidt as someone he looked up to as he rose through the ranks.

“I called him every day and asked questions,” Rahi said. “A lot of older guys, if they see that you have that drive and aren’t there just for the money, they’ll help you. If you’re lollygagging up the court, no one wants to work with 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

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