By Mike Spencer
Special for Second Half
Ken Allen can’t wait to say the words “Play Ball!’ today.
Weather permitting, the Traverse City softball umpire is expected to be behind the plate at Kingsley this afternoon after missing all of the spring season last year due to a heart double by-pass surgery.
“I’m sure It’s going to be exciting,” said Allen, a 32-year MHSAA umpire, basketball and football referee. “Especially after taking a year off from softball.
“But once the game gets started and you make that first call, it’s going to be right back to the old business.”
Allen, who has hardly missed a game since Dick Simon recruited him to officiate in 1985, was glad he went to his primary care physician after he noticed he was slowing down at the end of the 2015-16 boys and girls basketball season.
Allen’s doctor did an EKG and referred him to a heart surgeon, where he underwent a cardiac catheterization. Before the visit with the heart specialist was over, Allen was wheeled up to the second floor for heart surgery.
“It changed things, but I keep telling everybody that the man above gave me a second chance and I’m going to take full advantage of it,” said Allen, who was told he’d need at least three months to recuperate. “It was hard to be idle.”
“Ken is an ‘old school’ die hard,” said Barb Beckett, a charter member of the Northern Sports Officials Association, former officiating partner and assignor. “He is an assignor’s dream because he will go anywhere, work any level, and anytime.
“It was tough on him missing the last part of the basketball season and entire softball season. He makes a difference every time he steps on the court or the field."
Allen, who has officiated two MHSAA Finals in softball and another in football, never thought about retiring after his double by-pass on March 3, 2016.
“I never had a thought about quitting, and I don’t have a plan to retire,” Allen said. “I’m going to go as long as I can.
“When I can’t give the kids a full 100 percent, it’ll be time to get out.”
Allen had a clean bill of health to officiate football last fall, but he missed two weeks of the season after having his gall bladder removed. He then went on to work the entire boys and girls basketball season, which ended last month.
“Ken has always been a very hard-working official, and it’s no surprise to anyone that he has worked so hard to get back on the field and court,” said MHSAA assistant director Mark Uyl, the association’s coordinator of officiating. “Ken always had a true passion for officiating, and this passion has helped him recover and has been a source of motivation to get healthy and rehab so he can return to the competitive arena.”
Uyl said life-threatening illnesses and injuries often send veteran officials into early retirement.
“For many other officials, what Ken endured would have meant retirement or the end of their career, certainly in a sport like basketball,” Uyl said. “It shows how important working with the kids and schools is to Ken that he’s persevered so hard to get back.”
Allen also officiated baseball until the day he lost a coin flip and had to leave his softball game because no one showed up at the baseball field. His softball partner Tom Post tooted his horn departing after two quick softball games and Allen was still in the bottom half of his opener.
Although Allen has officiated two MHSAA softball championship games, football is his No. 1 sport. He worked a 2003 MHSAA Final as the umpire.
“When I first started out, I was on the chains,” said Allen, who played freshman football at Clio High and ran track and cross country. “Then I decided that I wanted to get in the middle where the action is. I really love it.”
Allen’s taken a few knocks in the middle of the football field, even suffered a couple of concussions. But until the heart double by-pass, he was always able to get back up on his feet without hardly missing a down.
“Ken is a great official because he’s got such good people skills,” Uyl said. “The officiating business is a ‘people business’ first and foremost, and this is why this has been such a great fit for Ken for the past 30-plus years. The MHSAA and all member schools are thrilled to have Ken back!”
Author Mike Spencer is a MHSAA registered official in boys and girls basketball and soccer. He spent more than three decades as a newspaperman before becoming a marketing communications specialist two years ago.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ken Allen, a 32-year veteran official from Traverse City, shows off his most memorable moment in high school officiating with photos and items he received after doing a 2003 MHSAA Finals assignment. (Middle) Allen kneels behind the plate; today he’ll return to action for the first time after heart surgery.
Be The Referee is a series of short messages designed to help educate people on the rules of different sports, to help them better understand the art of officiating, and to recruit officials.
Below is this week's segment – Volleyball Double & Lift - Listen
You’re sitting at a volleyball match and hear parents in the stands yell “Double!” or “Lift!”
What do those terms mean, and why are they yelling them?
Double refers to double contact. That’s when a player hits the ball twice in a row or if the ball touches two parts of the player’s body in succession. If a setter hits the ball with one hand then the other – even if immediate, it’s a double. She needs to set with both hands at the same time.
A lift is when the player, typically a setter, has prolonged contact with the ball that results in throwing or re-directing the ball back into play. The ball doesn’t rebound off the player's fingers or hands, but is directed by the player.
The official on the stand at the net is in the best position to notice these fouls.
Sept. 26: Registration Process - Listen
Sept. 20: Animal Interference - Listen
Sept. 13: Feet Rule on Soccer Throw-In - Listen
Sept. 6: Volleyball Jewelry - Listen
Aug. 30: Football Rules Similarities - Listen
Aug. 23: Football Rules Differences - Listen
(PHOTO by Gary Shook.)