by Rob Tucker
Cooley Honored For 50 Years of Service
As a referee, just about the only acknowledgment that one can expect from spectators is a vicious chorus of boos or, perhaps, a particularly loud-mouthed fan questioning the state of the official’s eyesight.
A select few, however, those who have shown time and time again over the years an ability to get the calls right and remain invisible to the hostile crowd are, once in a very great while, given a different, more pleasant kind of attention.
Fifty-year veteran Paul Cooley is one of those select officials.
At the Chautauqua County Exceptional Seniors basketball games at Cassadaga Valley this past month, a jam-packed house showed Cooley just how much they appreciated his efforts over the past half-century with a standing ovation.
You can bet that very few officials have gotten one of those.
That was a surprise and it brought tears to my eyes,” Cooley said with a laugh. “It was the first time I ever received a standing ovation. It was a really neat night.”
More recently, Cooley was honored for 50 years of basketball officiating service at the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials’ (IAABO) national spring meeting in Vienna, Va.
And to think it all began because the former baseball coach and teacher of journalism and English at Cassadaga Valley was just looking for something with which to occupy his time over the winter.
“I started officiating in 1962,” Cooley explained. “I was coaching baseball, but needed something to do in the winter. So I took a class and two of us passed the national test.”
Since then, Cooley has officiated thousands of games, and even spent a number of years at the college level.
“I refereed college basketball at Niagara University when Calvin Murphy played,” Cooley said. “But the travel soon became too much and they took it all too seriously. So I went back to the high school game.”
It was a return that many area coaches were no doubt pleased with.
Cooley, who is now the media coordinator for the Gerry Rodeo, had retired from officiating five years ago, but once again, fans, players and coaches lucked out as his love of the sport and of the job proved too much to keep him away.
“I started getting phone calls from people asking me to fill in,” he explained of the return. “So I came back and helped out a little bit and realized just how much I missed it.”
“That’s why I kept at it, because I love it.”
And he expects to be officiating games for the foreseeable future as well.
“The game is much faster and I’m much slower,” Cooley said, “but my legs are good and my health has been good. I paid my dues (for the upcoming season) so I’ll be back out there.”
For that kind of dedication, a few more standing ovations shouldn’t be out of the question.