Billy Ray Crow didn’t bother to document all of the basketball games he has called, but an estimate is well into the thousands.
He also hasn’t counted up all of the referees he has partnered with since that Thursday afternoon in December of 1969 when Crow called his first game at Lamar Middle School. The guess is well into the hundreds.
Scores of officials have gotten in and out of the Temple officiating chapter over the last half-century. Crow, however, has been a constant, comfortable and familiar sight in Central Texas gyms the entire time.
Now, the dean of officials in Texas, and perhaps most of the country, is down to calling his final handful of games.
“I always wanted to be a coach,” Crow, 75, said. “I thought I would get out of the Navy and go to college on the GI bill. But I got married and it changed my life. I got to where I liked (officiating) and then I loved it. I still enjoy it.”
The next best thing he found to coaching was officiating at the behest of veteran referees Gene Pemberton and Galen Adams. In fact, calling games proved to be more endearing and enduring to him. He called junior high games on Thursdays for $2.50 a game and built on that to call upward of 150 games a year at various levels four or five nights a week.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of Billy Crows in the future,” said fellow official Chad Horton, who serves as the assignor for the Temple chapters in both basketball and football, roles that Crow held for decades. “To think that he has put 50 years into our avocation is incredible. Thirty of those years were as our chapter’s assignor. It’s such a thankless job that demands so much time, and he did it for so long because of his love and dedication to our chapter. He will be a tough act to follow.”
Consider all of this to get a sense of how long Crow has called games.
Virtually every current high school gym in the region didn’t exist in 1969.
Crow likely is the last active official anywhere who called six-girl basketball.
He officiated several years before Temple High had a girls basketball program.
Crow was about one-third of the way into his officiating career when the 3-point line was instituted.
The first players for whom he officiated are now in their 60s.
About the only lament Crow has with changes in the game is that he felt the transition to five-girl basketball excluded certain girls the opportunity to play, though he admits it improved the game for spectators.
“The change I liked the most is that we don’t have to toss the ball up every time we have a tie ball,” said Crow, referring to the alternating possession rule, which replaced jump balls.
While Crow has called his share of big games, he never considered any game too menial to officiate despite his status. He maintained the same decorum for a seventh-grade B game as he did for a Class 6A showdown. His final game will be in Bartlett on Feb. 18 when the varsity Bulldogs host Calvert.
“In all my years in the Temple chapter I never did (view one game over another),” he said. “At meetings I would have guys raise their hands and ask why they didn’t get to call big games like Killeen and Temple. I’d tell them that game at Buckholts is as big to them as that game at Killeen to those players. They’ve got 10 guys on the court at Buckholts just like they have 10 guys on the court at Killeen.”
Crow — who was raised in Davilla and settled his entire adult life in Rogers where he currently is serving one of numerous terms as mayor, is in his 16th year as pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, walks 2 miles a day and travels to West Temple twice a day to perform crossing-guard duties at Joe Pirtle Elementary — revels in the fact that he has called games for three generations of basketball families in various towns.
“About 10 years ago he went to call a game at Centerville,” said Crow’s son, Ricky, a former official and basketball coach who now administers internet broadcasts of area school sporting events. “For many years in the 1970s, several guys from Temple would call the Centerville tournament. As he walked in the gym, he overheard an older guy say, ‘That old sucker called my games.’ He really likes that.”
At least to a point, anyway. While calling an area high school game last month a disgruntled coach told him, “You’re too damn old. You have no business being out there.”
Crow swiftly presented that coach with a technical.
It’s an occasionally emotional time for Crow when he stops long enough to consider it. His love of officiating basketball hasn’t waned much. Last fall he called his final football game after 48 years in that sport.
“Leaving football didn’t bother me so much,” he said. “I love basketball and I get a little teary-eyed.”
Perhaps none more weepy than the first game he called of the 2019-20 season. He returned to the place where it all started — Lamar Middle School. Crow’s officiating partner, grandson Patrick Crow, was making his career debut that evening to potentially keep the Crow name in the officiating business for years to come.
Crow will remain as chapter president for another year and is keeping his options open to fill in next year if needed, but in all practicality a 50-year era of basketball officiating will soon end.
“It’s an honor to me that God allowed me to do this for so long,” he said. “It’s because of God. God has been good to me. It’s been a good run.”