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‘It’s like your second love’: Flint-area high school sports officials …

GENESEE COUNTY, MI — Gary Duke has officiated high school athletics for more than 30 years and he’s never thrown a coach out of a contest.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m good or I’m just too nice,” joked Duke, who was one of 29 Flint-area officials recognized earlier this month by the Michigan High School Athletic Association for their dedication and loyalty.

Three hundred and seventy-one officials from across the state were honored May 3 at the annual awards and alumni banquet in Lansing, increasing the roll to more than 9,400 since the MHSAA began the annual event in 1980.

Some officials are former players, others former coaches. But all have one common denominator.

“Working with the young kids,” said Pat O’Reilly of Burton. “Young kids keep me young. I really believe that.”

O’Reilly, 70, has been officiating for 40 years. A former teacher, he retired from Kearsley High School in 2010. O’Reilly started out coaching football and track. When it was apparent coaching duties were going to keep him away from the house, he cut a deal with his wife and started officiating.

He hasn’t stopped since, working several sports at the high school level, all the way up to college. O’Reilly was the head starter for the American Athletic Conference outdoor track and field championships earlier this month in Tampa, Fla.

“When this isn’t fun, I’m done,” O’Reilly said.

Phil Long, 67 of Swartz Creek, is one of the most tenured officials still active in the MHSAA. He’s been officiating 50 years, having started in 1964 out of high school at the age of 17. A retired teacher from Flint Southwestern High School, Long has officiated hundreds of football, basketball, baseball and softball games. 

Shin splints have since kept him off the basketball court, and he’s in charge of assigning officials to high school football games in Genesee County.

“I’ve seen a lot of people go on to college and the NFL,” Long said, “And I sit back and say, ‘I knew that guy.’ It’s been a great ride and a passion.

“It’s like your second love, it’s hard and very difficult to quit. We’ve got the best seat in the house on Friday nights.”

Said Duke, now 56: “You learn all the latest slang from eavesdropping on their conversations. Everything’s relevant to you.”

Flint-area officials honored

20-year officials
John Sandlin, Corunna
Robert Hill, Davison
Phillip Diener, Fenton
Thomas King Jr., Fenton
Terry DeCaire, Flint
Thomas Tucker, Flint
Darrell Young, Flint
Mark Barton, Flushing
Nicole Shulz, Linden

30-year officials
Josephine Mayville, Burton
Donald McCombs, Burton
Julie Gettel, Clio
Martin Cleven III, Davison
Alan Hill, Durand
Anthony Mora, Fenton
Robert Farrar, Flint
Eric Minore, Flint
John Bozek, Grand Blanc
Gary Duke, Linden
James Johnston, Linden
David Castle, North Branch

40-year officials
Patrick O’Reilly, Burton
James Eastman, Davison
David Smith, Durand
Martin Covert, Fenton
Paul Matson, Holly
Larry Schutt, Swartz Creek

50-year officials
John Kirk, Flushing
Phillip Long, Swartz Creek

Aaron McMann covers sports at The Flint Journal. Contact him at amcmann@mlive.com; follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.

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