I always have had a soft spot for basketball referees. No official has a more difficult job than basketball’s zebras. No officials have to perform in such intimate environments where thousands of screaming know-it-alls are mere steps away, spewing profanities and offering up the opinion that you, sir, are undeniably an idiot.
Sure, we’ll scream displeasure at football, baseball and soccer officials. But they are usually hundreds of feet away.
When the basketball official gets it wrong, he has no place to hide.
But the good ones—and there are good ones—keep their cool inside that cauldron of passion and irrationality.
On the Fourth of July, we lost not just a good one, but a great one. Terre Haute’s Charlie Fouty left us. He was 83. I can’t think of Charlie without the phrase, “Let me tell you something,” coming to mind.
That’s how he started most sentences. Charlie was a man of strong opinions, and didn’t hesitate in sharing them.
On the basketball court, Charlie mastered the fine art of controlling the game without being controlling. Like the best of officials, sometimes you forgot he was there. He hustled, was always in the right position—especially back in the days with two-man crews—and never tried to take the focus away from the players or the coaches.
Unlike some of today’s officials, he knew the crowd wasn’t there to see him.
That said, he wouldn’t take undeserved guff from anyone. Most of the time, all it took was a look—actually it was a withering glare—to send a message to an overly demonstrative coach.
On other occasions, during a dead-ball situation, he would quietly stand next to the coach and, with his hand over his mouth, talk to him.
To spectators, it looked as if Charlie was saying, “Do you want to get a beer after the game?”
But what he was really saying was, “Coach, you’d better sit your a-- down, or you’re gonna be listening to the rest of the game on the radio in the locker room.”
How good an official was Charlie? Perhaps the best example was that he gained the enduring respect and friendship of none other than Robert Montgomery Knight, although the volatile former Indiana University coach never let Charlie forget he made the wrong call on a goal-tend against Kent Benson when the Hoosiers met Michigan in a 1975 game.
Just as steadfastly, Charlie maintained he got the call right.
Charlie attended what was known then as Terre Haute State High School. He played hoops morning, noon and night and emerged as an Indiana All-Star in 1946.
Two years later, while still a student at Indiana State University, he officiated his first game. He blew his last whistle 29 years later.
In addition to Indiana high school games, Charlie worked the Ohio Valley Conference, the Missouri Valley Conference and the Big Ten, and his reputation as one of the nation’s best officials grew. Eventually, he was assigned to two Indiana High School Final Fours and four NCAA Final Fours.
Charlie drove almost everywhere, often arriving back in Terre Haute just in time to beat the sunrise. Always up and waiting to greet him was his wife of 62 years, Pat.
For his incredible body of work, Charlie was enshrined in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
Charlie also was active in Vigo County politics, serving 17 years on the County Council, where he would examine budgets with a keen eye and a black pencil, calling into question any expenditure he deemed wasteful.
Charlie was as forthright, blunt and honest as they came. Both in life and on the court, he called ’em as he saw ’em.
Let me tell you something about Charlie Fouty. He was an Indiana original.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.