Launching Pad and Destination

November 30, 2012

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

Lamont Simpson’s “home” is a place he visits twice a week during his peak season, when NCAA Division I officiating duties have him navigating the Midwest like a person in a race for frequent flyer miles.

His travels pale in comparison to Stacey Thomas, who has lived in Latvia, Turkey and Sweden thanks to the game of basketball.

Then there’s Jim Garofalo, who authored his own cheat sheets to assist with the eight different rules books which intertwined during a period of time in his hockey officiating career, which included a trip to the Olympic Games.

So, naturally, there’s Simpson officiating an MHSAA Pre-District Football Playoff game in Detroit last fall, taking a postgame earful from a father who believed his son was the subject of a cheap shot during the game.

There’s Thomas, blowing a whistle with teenagers at the Healthy Kids Club  in Detroit this summer

There’s Garofalo, ditching seven of the rules books over the last few years, and using only one now: the high school rules book.

It’s true that Simpson is at the pinnacle of his career, working Big Ten, Mid-American Conference and Horizon League men’s basketball, in addition to the WNBA in the summer, where he recently worked his eighth straight WNBA Finals.

And, yes, Thomas has her sights set on the NCAA Division I level and beyond, as her officiating career is still in its infancy.

Sure, Garofalo has achieved much on the ice both as an amateur and professional referee.

But, like so many in the officiating family, they deeply appreciate their roots and the people who helped them along the way. It’s a people business, first and foremost.

This week, continuing its "Making – and Answering – the Call" series, Second Half introduces Simpson, an officiating veteran of more than three decades. Profiles of Thomas and Garofalo will follow later this month. 

It's about patience and honesty

The late June heat at the Kensington Valley Golf Course doesn’t seem to bother Lamont Simpson. The secret to his cool aura lies in his hand, a golf ball which he has identified as “Ref” in permanent marker.

Simpson is indeed a ref – permanently – thanks to a suggestion from Robert Menafee during the late 1970s, and the 1977 Detroit Redford grad has been most comfortable in the heat of competition’s spotlight ever since.

“I was at a football game at Henry Ford a year or two after high school, and Mr. Menafee, my former coach, saw me and asked what I was doing,” Simpson recalled. “He said I should try officiating. That’s the first I’d ever thought about it.”

It would be the impetus to a craft that has consumed nearly 30 years of Simpson’s life, as he now jets around the country as a top-flight NCAA Men’s Basketball official, and one of the senior officials in the WNBA, where he recently called his eighth consecutive Finals.

For all of his accomplishments, Simpson can still recall with great detail various moments that led to his current standing; mental snapshots which help to explain why he still registers as an MHSAA football official each year, and why he gives so freely of himself to anyone interested in getting a start in officiating.

“I still remember my first game, thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’” Simpson recalled. “In my second year I did a PSL (Detroit Public School League) playoff game, and to this day, walking into that gym is still one of my most gratifying times. There were about two or three thousand people in the stands, and I remember the butterflies.”

Fast forward to the Pontiac Silverdome in November 1992. In the waning seconds of the MHSAA Class A Football Final, a pigskin floats in the air doing its best butterfly imitation. Following a double-reverse pass, the tipped ball is finally corralled by Muskegon Reeths-Puffer’s Stacey Starr at the 10-yard line and carried into the end zone to give his school a 21-18 win over Walled Lake Western in one of the most frenzied finishes in MHSAA Finals history.

Simpson had a good view of the moment.

“I was the back judge, working my first MHSAA Final. My first thought is to get in position and then, ‘Oh man, the ball is tipped,’” Simpson replays in his mind. “You’re part of a game-ending situation and you don’t want to screw it up. You almost become a fan in a game like that—a moment like that—but you’ve got your job to do. Afterward, when it was all over, I just remember thinking, ‘What a football game I got to be a part of.’”

Simpson would also get a shot as a Football Final referee in 2003, and worked the 1995 Boys Basketball Final which featured Flint Northern’s team led by future MSU Spartans Mateen Cleaves and Antonio Smith. But, Simpson remembers that game for a different reason.

“It was the last time that the Final was worked with a two-person crew.” Simpson said. “I remember the great athletes in the game, and being part of history as the last two-man crew in the Finals is something to be proud of.”

Simpson is quick to point out, however, that simply having what it takes to officiate an athletic event at any level is something of which to be most proud. While it’s natural for new officials to covet championship assignments and careers beyond the high school level, Simpson stresses patience, hard work, and – in many cases – honesty with one’s own performance as the most valuable traits an official can possess.

“I work and speak at a lot of camps, and I stress that people need to work at the craft – mechanics, rules, physical appearance – and above all have patience.” Simpson said. “The thing I see in younger officials now that is so different than when I was coming in, is they don’t have the patience; they don’t want to pay their dues.”

Sometimes, even the greatest amount of patience, perseverance and hard work isn’t enough. And, that’s where honesty in self-evaluation comes in. Yes, there are egos in officiating. To some extent, it’s a prerequisite. However, humility can also lead to finding a niche in the game.

Simpson himself is an example.

“My goal was to work in the NBA, but after seven years in the CBA, I realized that it probably wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “But, you know, there was still a lot of good basketball out there to work. When I left the CBA, I did so on my own terms, and went to work on my college career. So, sometimes you weigh your options and focus on the next goal.

“The point is, work at being the best at whatever level you work. I’ve seen guys spend a lot of money at the same camps year after year, and never get that college assignment,” Simpson said. “Maybe it’s time for them to focus on a different level.”

In that respect, the very thing that drives officials and gets them in the game in the first place can by the very thing that drives them out. Passion and drive, the need to reach the next level, can keep people focused in their chosen quest; the frustration of not advancing can also lead to their exit.

True, Simpson is one of 32 officials in the WNBA, and just worked his eighth WNBA Final. He has a full NCAA Division I men’s basketball schedule. But, the father of three grown children and grandfather of five cannot express enough the fringe benefits that officiating brings at any level.

“You become a better people person through officiating. Your communication skills are sharper,” he says. “Not only what to say and when to say it, but you learn to listen. You have to be a listener in this business, and that’s a great skill to have in life.”

It also provides the opportunity to be a teacher and recruiter. It’s one of the reasons he’s closing in on nearly three decades as an MHSAA registered official. What better way to pass the knowledge forward?

“No matter where you end up, always remember where you started, and keep your friends,” Simpson said. “I return every call, every text. I still talk to the same guys I grew up with. From an officiating standpoint if we could all just bring along one person at a time, think of the effect that would have.”

Simpson does more than his share, from speaking at camps and clinics – all voluntarily, mind you – to the behind the scenes recruitment, such as the time he surrendered all of his baseball umpiring equipment to a friend under the condition that person register with the MHSAA and begin working games.

He thinks back to the suggestion from Coach Menafee frequently. “Oh, all the time,” Simpson said. “I think of the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, the people I’ve met and the person I’ve become. This is what being an official does.”

There’s a scenario that Simpson replays time and again when he talks of officiating, and it doesn’t pertain to his collegiate or professional experience. In fact, it’s not even about basketball.

“It’s Friday night, and you’re working the big rivalry game between two communities. You get on the field, the bleachers are packed, the bands are playing, and you’re  right in the mix,” Simpson says with reverence. “That’s it right there. It doesn’t get much better than that. That’s it.”

PHOTO: Lamont Simpson officiates WNBA games during the summers, including this contest involving the Atlanta Dream and player Erika de Souza (14). 

NOTE: This is the fifth installment in the series "Making – and Answering – the Call" detailing the careers and service of MHSAA officials. Click the links below to view the others.

St. Clair County Celebrates 1st Mr. Basketball Winner, PHN's Jamison

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 29, 2023

The Jamison family has spent plenty of time over the years driving long distances as Tyler chased his basketball dreams.

Bay & ThumbAfter the Port Huron Northern senior achieved one of the biggest ones, they had to put some more mileage on the family vehicle.

As the newly-crowned Mr. Basketball, Jamison was invited to a special presentation during the Boys Basketball Finals this past Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center. It was an invitation Tyler and his family didn’t hesitate to accept, and the drive from Port Huron to East Lansing was nothing.

But it did cause a pretty big change to some other travel plans.

Tyler and his family were scheduled to fly to Florida on Friday for spring break. That flight had to be canceled, though, and instead, the family made the drive down later.

“There were some jokes about just leaving me and letting me find my own way down there,” Jamison said.

While they joke, there’s nowhere the Jamisons would have rather been Saturday than at the Breslin. As a true basketball family – Tyler’s dad Brian is also the coach at Northern, and his brother Alex was a standout freshman for the Huskies – they have a great appreciation for the Mr. Basketball Award and its significance.

“I had said a while ago, ‘Hey, if we’re still in the tournament, we’ll be playing Friday,” Brian Jamison said. “I even mentioned that it would be a miracle, but Tyler could win Mr. Basketball. Now we’re eating plane tickets and driving down to Florida. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’re not missing this.”

Jamison was the overwhelming winner of the award, which is named after Hal Schram and given out by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. He received 3,058 points in the vote to become its 43rd winner. Curtis Williams of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (2,004 points), Kaden Brown of Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1,918), Sonny Wilson of Detroit U-D Jesuit (1,883) and Ryan Hurst of North Farmington (1,811) were the other finalists.

“It was just insane,” Tyler Jamison said. “I can’t even really put into words how I felt – it was just a dream come true, a culmination of all the hard work that’s been put in over the years. My mom was in the other room (when his dad called to tell him), and I just hugged her and we were kind of screaming. The dog was getting riled up. It was fun. There were a few tears shed.”

Jamison throws down a dunk.Jamison, who signed with Fairleigh Dickinson in December, finished the season averaging 26.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game. He was named the Macomb Area Conference White division MVP after leading Northern to the league title and a 20-4 overall record.

Even with all that, winning the most prestigious individual basketball award in the state didn’t seem like a reality.

“We purposely try to play a tough schedule, and we purposely got into some showcases because we wanted people to see, not only him play, but us play,” Brian Jamison said. “We had beaten Skyline and Hamtramck, and went up to Croswell-Lexington and won up there, and I thought, ‘OK, now he’s done it against some of the better teams.’ Up to that point, when we played those tougher teams, he’s always showed out well, but it’s different when you’re not winning them. But at that point, I thought he had a chance. Really, I was just hoping he would get on the list. To win it was kind of above and beyond what I had hoped for.”

On the court, Tyler’s impact on the program was pretty obvious and immediate.

He’s the program’s all-time leading scorer – a record he set as a junior – with 1,763 career points. He also holds Northern records for career rebounds (825), points in a game (59), rebounds in a game (28), career field goals made (638) and career free throws made (439). As a junior, he was named MAC Blue MVP.

Northern did not lose a league game in either of the past two seasons.

But Northern is likely to see future success because of Tyler’s non-statistical impact.

Leading a young team, including a group of star freshmen – his brother Alex, Cam Harju and Amir Morelan – was a major part of Tyler’s job this season.

Northern’s home games were must-see events this winter, as the Huskies were one of Division 1’s top teams, and Tyler was providing nightly highlights and must-see performances. Even in his final game, a loss against Macomb Dakota in the District Final, Jamison treated the standing-room crowd with a 46-point performance and a halfcourt shot at the third-quarter buzzer in a valiant effort.

“That’s the big thing, you want the students and the school community to support you, and they did an amazing job,” Tyler Jamison said. “We also had people from the community that wanted to support us and watch us play. Port Huron High had a really good season, too, and I think both schools in the city had that public support. That’s huge. It makes you feel like you’re playing for more than yourself.”

Among those crowds were the next generation of Huskies, some of whom were coached by Tyler in youth basketball. As he’s the first Mr. Basketball winner from St. Clair County, those kids now have a hometown example of someone who has reached the highest heights.

“I think interest gets sparked when the little kids come to the gym, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’” Brian Jamison said. “They want to play for Northern or (Port Huron) High. And with him winning Mr. Basketball, I think it gives kids a little bit of ‘Hey, why not me?’ I do think it helps motivate younger people. We’ve had great crowds at our games. I think the area is excited about basketball. It really is a great basketball area.”

With all of that excitement surrounding him, Tyler had one more challenge after the season – keeping the secret that he had won. He found out six days before the award was announced.

“It was terrible – especially when it’s something of that magnitude,” he said. “You want to tell everyone. You want to tell your friends and family. It was hard to be like, ‘No, I don’t know.’”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Tyler Jamison, second from left, with his parents and brother, stands with his newly-received Mr. Basketball Award trophy during the ceremony at the Detroit Free Press. (Middle) Jamison throws down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Jamison family.)