Kelly: No pressure for Omaha ref — just 80 million watching -
Published Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:53 am
Kelly: No pressure for Omaha ref — just 80 million watching

Growing up in an Omaha family of nine children, future NCAA basketball referee John Higgins saw his parents referee a disagreement or two.

And he watched his dad, the late Roger Higgins, yell at a lot of refs during his coaching career at Cathedral, Bryan and Roncalli high schools.

Those experiences may or may not have prepared him for officiating the NCAA men's title game in April at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

“The championship game is an unbelievable experience,” John told the Downtown Rotary on Wednesday. “You pinch yourself. Our boss said to us beforehand, 'There's no pressure, just 75,000 people watching, plus 80 million on TV.' ”

Officiating that game, in which Louisville defeated Michigan, is the pinnacle so far in a quarter-century career as a referee.

Higgins is one of the NCAA's busiest refs, working 93 games last season, including many in the Big 12 and Missouri Valley Conferences.

He first officiated in 1987, when referees didn't show up for a game in Kearney and he volunteered. He quickly earned his stripes, working his way up from youth to high school to college games.

He has no interest in moving to the NBA, he said, because he would be away from his family 26 or 27 days a month. In Omaha, he manages rental property and owns a roofing and siding business.

He answered Rotarians' questions, including why so many players get away with traveling. “We don't call enough, I grant that.”

Best arena atmospheres? Kansas and Duke, but “Creighton here is unbelievable.”

Replying to a question about gambling, he said that referees are subject to FBI background checks.

League supervisors grade and chart every officiating call.

“You get a DVD of plays you missed or emails every single day,” he said. “Everybody is going to miss plays. The biggest thing is you can't miss a rule.”

Higgins said he has heard people yell that he is blind and just about every imaginable criticism.

“There are a lot of good referees and a lot of bad referees,” he said. “When I'm at home watching, I'll say, 'How did he miss that call?' ”

* * *

Lueder Construction Co. of Omaha honored its corporate secretary on Friday with Carmie Egger Day — her 55th anniversary with the company.

Brad von Gillern, company president, wrote that she is a role model and part of a dying breed of workers who give their all and stay through thick and thin.

Carmie, whose late husband was musician Norrie Egger, remains an avid fan of live music in Omaha. And as a leader at Lueder, she likes to remind everyone that the company name is pronounced “Leader,” not “Looder.”

* * *

A city council member in Tampa, Fla., has proposed changing the name of Nebraska Avenue.

The Tampa Bay Times said that Nebraska goes through some of Tampa's grittier inner-city neighborhoods. The councilwoman said, “If I had business on Nebraska Avenue, I would prefer anything but Nebraska Avenue.”

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

She suggested naming it for the first governor of Spanish colonial Florida: Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Yes, De Aviles Avenue has a nice ring.

* * *

A few years ago, small-town Nebraska kid Cort Scheer of Elsmere was scoring touchdowns for Sandhills High in Dunning.

Now the rodeo cowboy has achieved a career high, winning $100,000 and the saddle bronc riding championship Sunday at the prestigious Calgary Stampede.

With parents Kevin and Pam and other relatives snapping photos and cheering his victory — he stayed on a horse that had bucked him off at the National Finals Rodeo — 27-year-old Cort accepted an oversized check.

“I've never seen that much money in my life,” he told the Calgary Herald. “I'm gonna have to hire a banker, I guess.”

* * *

With the impending birth of the future monarch of England — and grandchild of the late Princess Diana — the Omaha-written “Princess Diana the Musical” has taken the stage in St. Paul, Minn.

The musical by songwriter Karen Sokolof Javitch and author and actress Elaine Jabenis, both longtime Omahans, has been produced several times in the Big O.

It will be staged through July 27 at the Cabaret Theater at Camp Bar in St. Paul. Said Karen: “We are still so saddened by the death of this wonderful woman who gave so much to the world.”

* * *

At the close of the three-day Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, former President Bill Clinton chatted amiably with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Some wondered if a 2016 election could match Hillary Clinton against Christie. But the chat turned to the effect of Hurricane Sandy and federal polices on flood plains, insurance and sand dunes.

The conversation was streamed online, and Clinton said of their talk about waves and dunes: “You may live in Nebraska and think this is crazy.”

Christie, noting that federal recovery dollars come from across the nation, earned a chuckle by saying: “People in Nebraska should care about it 'cause they're paying for it.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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