SPORTS: Here’s how a referee makes the hall of fame

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As the boys’ and girls’ high school swimming seasons come to a close, my thoughts turn to a man who in April will be inducted into the first class of the Indiana High School Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame.

It’s notable because this person never swam a competitive lap in his life. That said, I can’t think of anyone more deserving. In the big picture of local sports-where the major leaguers and the major colleges reside-not many have heard of Harry Inskeep. But at the high school level, particularly around central Indiana, there probably aren’t many who haven’t heard of him.

For 46 years-and about five nights a week-Harry would kiss his wife, Mary Lee, goodbye and head off to a high school sporting event.

Harry refereed football, basketball, track, cross-country, swimming and wrestling. And he umpired baseball.

He did State Finals in swimming (boys’ and girls’), track, baseball and crosscountry. He refereed boys’ and girls’ state basketball tournaments as deep as the semistates. He recalls more than a few Saturdays when he would officiate a swimming or wrestling meet during the morning and afternoon, then hustle off to a basketball game somewhere that night.

Over the years, Harry officiated in 270 IHSAA tournaments. He did 36 boys’ swimming sectionals and 21 girls’ swimming sectionals. He did his last state final (swimming) in 2002, after which he retired “because I decided I’d rather go out on my own terms, on top of my game.”

Over the years, I had seen the ubiquitous Mr. Inskeep a number of times, but I really didn’t get to know him until my eldest daughter participated in swimming at Hamilton Southeastern High School.

The more I saw him officiate at swim meets, the more I noticed how he interacted with the athletes and coaches.

He was not there to flout his authority. Indeed, he seemed more a friend, a big brother, a father figure, a helper, a mentor. Sure, if there was a rules infraction, he’d call it. Yet he did so in a manner that didn’t inflict pain, but eased it.

“I can truly say there wasn’t a sport I didn’t enjoy working,” Harry told me recently. “My belief always has been that I was there at a meet or a game to be of service, and to treat people with dignity and kindness.

“I had only two rules for myself … to hustle, and to be fair.”

A personal anecdote:

In December of her senior year, out of the blue, my daughter received a letter from Harry. In it, he praised her for her “hard work, positive attitude and genuine effort to truly be the best you can be.”

Enclosed was a check for $25. Harry noted it was “a small token of large esteem” presented in memory of his son, John, who had been fatally injured in a 1979 automobile accident.

I came to learn that every year Harry would choose a student-athlete who had impressed him while he was officiating. He would then send that $25 check, with the notation that it be used toward the first college textbook that student would purchase the following fall.

That, in a nutshell, is just the kind of person Harry Inskeep is.

It should be noted that Harry was almost born to be an official. By the time he was a junior at Sheridan High School, he was refereeing junior high games. At Purdue University, he was a student-manager on the baseball team and quickly was appointed the umpire for all intra-squad games. The freshman baseball coach at the time was none other than varsity basketball coach Ward “Piggy” Lambert, who would regale Harry with inspirational stories about Johnny Wooden and Stretch Murphy. And the varsity baseball coach was Henry “Hank” Stram, who would later go on to make his mark as coach of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Harry returned to Sheridan after Purdue, teaching science and physical education and coaching several sports, including varsity football for one season. He then moved to Lawrence Township, where he taught chemistry, then moved into administration.

Though now retired, Harry, 74, still is active-surprise!-filling his days teaching driver’s education and overseeing bus driver operations and training at Hamilton Southeastern.

Some folks just can’t stop giving of themselves.

As for his upcoming induction into the Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame, Harry-who is being recognized in the “contributor” category-says he feels “tremendously humbled.”

Just by knowing the guy, so do I.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to Benner also has a blog,

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