Monday, December 8, 2008

Laughlin's Lesson Not To Be Ignored

I used to wonder why officials competing for the many prep and small college assignments are so ultra-competitive within officiating circles. As I got older, I realized it's because too many officials are overly-concerned with their own legacy -- the stamp they'll leave on officiating.
As I enter my older & wiser phase of officiating, I realize it's enough to simply be a good, honest official to leave a strong mark.

That was Rollo Laughlin, too. Trapped in the hustle of every day, it's easy to forget the simple lessons, but Laughlin embodied these wise tales. Be thankful for what you have and do everything you can to make each day meaningful.

Laughlin passed away last week at the spry age of 90 years old in Royal Oak's Beaumont Hospital. He golfed, drove and did what we all hope to do until the very end. Laughlin lived in Royal Oak since the 1950s, in the same house he bought with his wife and raised his three children in. Born in 1919, Laughlin grew up in Horton, Michigan, just outside Jackson. He was a forward on his school's varsity basketball team. As a senior, Laughlin helped Horton advance all the way to the 1937 Class D championship game. Horton lost a 21-18 decision to Marshall Shearer's Stevensville High team but the experience remained a lifelong memory.
Today Stevensville has become the Class B Lakeshore High Lancers, and Horton High has become Horton-Hanover High, a Class C school and 424-student home to the Comets.

After graduation Laughlin attended what is now Western Michigan University, where he presumably learned the skill of officiating. Tracking for a career in teaching changed with World War II for Laughlin, who enlisted in America's war effort. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor engulfed America for good on December 7, 1941 and Laughlin's enlistment lasted through '45. Stationed in Iceland as a logistical transport specialist, Laughlin plied his officiating trade in the many military basketball games played on base during his time in service.

Upon his return stateside, Laughlin discovered the Detroit Public Schools were literally hiring on the spot. Degree in hand, Laughlin was tabbed on the spot to teach physical education in an elementary school. To earn a few bucks and stay fit himself, Laughlin resumed his officiating career. From the late 1940s to the mid-1970s, Laughlin registered with the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and worked football, basketball and baseball. He joined Michigan's oldest officiating association, the Southeastern Michigan Officiating Association (SMOA), and like most officials, he worked his fair share of big games among a majority of ho-hum assignments.

His son, Keith, told me his claim to fame was also his biggest mistake. Working a football game at Berkley High when a Statue of Liberty play was executed to perfection, Laughlin's piercing tweet prematurely ended the play. A handful of yards downfield stood a Berkley runner stopped dead in his tracks due to the inadvertent whistle. It was a mistake that every official dreads and yet, every official worth his or her salt has experienced it in their own misfortune. To have never made a mistake like this is to never have officiated.

A reporter from The Daily Tribune, which used to be South Oakland County's unofficial bible, called Laughlin at his home to inquire about the controversial call. Back then officials weren't nameless robots and papers listed your address when you made the paper as an identifying mark, so finding someone wasn't a difficult task. Instead of lamenting this or that, Laughlin told the reporter on the other end, "I blew the call, there's nothing more to it than that. I just flat blew it."

After he hung up his whistle, he shelved his lesson plans a few years later after nearly 40 years on the job teaching. He watched Detroit morph into a nearly-all African American city from a melting pot of all nationalities in the immediate post-war boom times. Laughlin was a husband, teacher, referee and father, in that order. His acumen for officiating is nearly forgotten, as many of the officials he worked with, and the coaches he worked for, have either moved on, passed on or possibly both.

So today, I think of the lessons of Rollo Laughlin. First work hard, then work smart but be happy to have the opportunity to be making a difference -- big or small -- every day, in every possible way.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries. His second title, Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, is due out in August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Article!

December 8, 2008 at 11:24 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the touching tribute to my Dad. His unexpected passing was a blow to us all. But it is wonderful to hear from people such as yourself how his life touched others in so many positive ways.

David Laughlin

December 10, 2008 at 10:33 AM 

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