Las Vegan Neil Gallant celebrates 50 years as high school referee

Updated February 16, 2019 - 11:47 pm

A veteran officiating crew was assembled for Monday’s Valley vs. Democracy Prep boys basketball game.

And then some.

Among them, Neil Gallant, Larry McKay and Jeff Wells had been blowing the whistle for 130 years. Gallant was marking the end of his 50th season as a high school referee, and before the game, he was presented with a golden basketball to commemorate the occasion. A nice crowd in the gymnasium, including family members and fellow zebras from the Southern Nevada Officials Association, stood and applauded.

When the game started, most in the crowd went back to questioning the eyesight of the three senior officials.

But they let the kids play, and the game was over in like 15 minutes. By the fourth quarter, the crowd had ceased questioning their eyesight.

During a halftime interview — this never would happen in the NBA, or even the G League — Gallant recalled the first game he officiated.

“Adrian, Oregon — little town of about 400 people,” he said as he retucked his striped shirt into his black trousers in a little vestibule near the court. “Small gym. I worked with a gentleman named Purvis Starr. I made $5.”

Officiating buddies seated around a table joked that he was overpaid from the start.

“Back in those days, we wore white Converse All-Stars. High-tops,” Gallant said. “Purvis told me slow down, you’re running way too fast for these kids. On the fast break, I was open every play.”

On Monday night at age 69, he stayed back on defense from time to time.

“I remember breaking in here. There were eight high schools and a core of about 30 officials,” said Gallant, who also called fouls, traveling and — once in every blue moon — three seconds in the Big West and Big Sky conferences.

Said SNOA chief Marc Ratner: “He still wants to be out there at 70 years old when few people his age would be able to do that. His love for the sport really shines through.”

Gallant said he had no idea how many games he had called during his 50 years in zebra stripes.

“The Valley coach said one too many,” said Mark Perlman, line judge for the recent Rams-Cowboys NFL divisional playoff game.

Everybody laughed, and then somebody knocked on the door and told Neil Gallant and the other members of the veteran officiating crew that it was almost time for the second half.

Gaughan sneaks in

Brendan Gaughan qualified for his eighth Daytona 500 the old-fashioned way — he raced his way in.

The little team for which he drives in selected Cup Series races did not have a guaranteed starting spot per NASCAR’s complicated charter system. So the 43-year-old part-time racer from Las Vegas had to finish ahead of other cars in the same predicament in his Thursday qualifying race or go home.

“I’ve never smelled more tire smoke, gear oil. I’ve never smelled more things about to be a catastrophe in my life that weren’t really there,” Gaughan said after finishing 15th in his 150-mile heat to earn an at-large spot in Sunday’s 40-car field.

Marner’s happy Valentine

A little girl sitting along the dasher boards at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night made a poster asking if the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner would be her valentine.

Marner skated over and tossed the little girl a puck. Then he asked if she would pose with him for a selfie.

Her reaction was more priceless than anything you’ve seen on a Mastercard commercial.

There is a movie called “Valentine’s Day” that ran 124 minutes and cost $52 million to convey what Mitch Marner and this little girl did in a 22-second Twitter video that cost nothing but the kindness in a hockey player’s heart.

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Durango High product Tommy Pham, exiled to Tampa Bay by the St. Louis Cardinals at the trading deadline last season, on losing to pool shark Jeanette “Black Widow” Lee during a Rays’ Fan Fest event:

“I made two tough shots in a row to get down to the eight ball, bank it off the side rail into the corner pocket for the win — only for the cue ball to scratch side pocket. (Against) the best pool player in the world.

“That’s like hitting a home run and missing first (base).”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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