Referees are often the least popular people at sporting events, yet they are indispensable to many sports, including Indiana’s favorite–basketball. Many players and coaches have gone down in Indiana history for their contributions to high school and college basketball. The contributions of the referees who have made those games possible are less known.
For thirty-five years, Jimmy Dimitroff of Indianapolis, Indiana, refereed Indiana high school basketball games. He grew up in Haughville and graduated from Indianapolis Washington High School, where he played both football and basketball. After serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, he returned to Indianapolis and in 1953 he began refereeing high school basketball games. The pay was $10 or $12 per game and the cost of a tank of gas.
For the first two decades of his career as a ref, Dimitroff literally traveled all over the state, as far north as East Chicago and as far south as Evansville. Headed north to Peru, Indiana, one Saturday for a sectional game, only a few weeks after the record-setting 1978 blizzard, Dimitroff found the road completely blocked by a snowdrift. At 9 p.m., he was finally rescued by a group of National Guardsmen and spent the night in the nearby Westfield high school gym, unable to reach the game site.
Dimitroff’s dedication gained him the respect of state coaches. At a time when referees for the state high school championships were chosen by a vote of coaches, Dimitroff officiated at five state competitions between 1971 and 1979. He also refereed thirty-five sectionals, 30 regionals, and 22 semi-states. In 2004, the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association awarded him its Roy Gardner Award for Official of the Year. In 2009, he was invited to speak at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on “My Official View: 50 Plus Years in Indiana Basketball Officiating”; in 2012 he joined the Hall’s Board of Directors.
A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.