High school sports fans around Southwest Missouri who have gone to the football field, basketball court, baseball field or softball field since the mid-1950s probably ran across Charlie Long.
“I cannot imagine how many people involved in sports — especially in Carl Junction — how many lives he has touched,” said Kevin Rhinehart. “I know he touched a lot of them. He probably couldn’t tell you either.”
Long, who first registered with the Missouri State High School Activities Association in 1956 to officiate football, died on Saturday afternoon. He was 83.
Long was a true ambassador for officiating. In addition to working countless football, basketball, baseball and softball games, he served as an officer for the local association in all four sports, including many years as secretary-treasurer.
“He was the first person I really got to know when I came to Missouri,” Rhinehart said. “He was the (officials) assignor for everything, and I was involved in all those sports in Kansas.
“He was very instrumental in the advancement of my career, and I’m sure there are several hundred people who could say the same thing about their experience. He helped me a whole lot. We hit it off pretty good. I had flexibility in my schedule, and if he needed somebody in a hurry, I could help him out.”
Long was the lead official (the white hat) on his football crew, and Teryl Malone was part of Long’s crew for around 30 years. That crew worked a total of 34 state playoff games and two championship games.
“He was no nonsense,” Malone said. “It was all business when he hit the field. He knew his rules. Plus with John Adams there as the umpire, those two were so good together.
“He was just a wonderful guy, and he would help those young officials. We lost a legend.”
“I ran into him when I started coaching (football) at Carthage in 1960,” said Mickey Heatherly. “We kept getting to be friendlier and friendlier. He always had two Parkwood games each season.”
Their friendship carried over onto the basketball court when they officiated together.
“It’s a lot of fun when you know the people you’re calling with and you don’t worry about somebody making a stupid call,” Heatherly said. “For a guy who refereed as long as he did, he was awful good with people. You never hardly saw anybody get onto him except for the parents in the stands, and we all put up with them. I didn’t see anybody get on him in football. He got along with anybody, and if there was a problem, he didn’t have to talk much to settle them down.”
When school was out in the summer, Long spent 13 years as the manager of the Carl Junction American Legion Post 781 baseball team.
In that role, he helped collect donations for the Joplin Miners team after the May 2011 tornado. Long didn’t want any credit; he saw it as returning a favor.
“Coach (Warren) Turner and Joplin didn’t charge a sent when we were allowed to play our games at Joe Becker Stadium (after a 2003 tornado in Carl Junction,” Long said in an interview with the Globe. “A lot of people and programs helped. After the article appeared in the Globe soon after the tornado, people were calling from everywhere wanting to help.”
“If you told him somebody is having problems and so forth, Charlie would do anything for anybody,” Heatherly said. “And he didn’t mind to do it twice.”
In August 2006 the Joplin Football Officials Association presented the first Charlie Long Distinguished Service Award to Long. At that time he was in the sixth of seven decades as an official — except for four years to watch his children play sports. He also worked some college football games for good friend and white hat Emry Dilday from Springfield.
“I would do it all again,” he said that night. “I’ve met so many officials and coaches. I’ve made a lot of friends.”
Former Globe sports writer Anvil Welch contributed to this report.
Missouri Southern guard Charlie Brown (0) drives past St. Cloud State’s Mark Hall (30) during their season opener on November 13, 2015 at Leggett & Platt.globe file