There is a way to truly honor Jim Younkin

There is a way to truly honor Jim Younkin

In his last HBO special, the great comedian George Carlin pointed out something that just about all of us say to people after they lose a loved one.

“If there’s anything I can do, anything at all, please don’t hesitate to ask,” Carlin said.

Most of us have said something like that. While we are genuinely trying to help, most of the time these are just empty words because, really, there is rarely anything you could possibly do to help in that situation.

They are also easy words to say because we say them knowing we are never going to get called on them.

Well, Carlin wanted us to call out that bluff.

“You know what you tell a guy like that who wants to help?” Carlin said. “’Oh, fine, why don’t you come over this weekend. You can paint the garage.’”

Longtime Butte official Jim Younkin passed away last week, and in Mr. Younkin’s case, there is something we really can do.

Actually, there are a couple of things to do, and the first one is really easy. At least it should be.

As a tribute to Mr. Younkin, let’s all make a vow to be nice to officials for the rest of this sports season. Not forever. That would be crazy.

Just for this season.

Whether it’s basketball, wrestling, basket weaving or whatever, let’s break out the Golden Rule when it comes to sports officials.

Sure, you can yell and scream like usual after what you perceive to be bad call. But, just for this short time, how about we lay off the personal attacks?

Mr. Younkin, after all, refereed thousands upon thousands of games so that our kids could play and that we could enjoy watching them.

Rarely would you ever see Mr. Younkin when he wasn’t in an official’s uniform, whether it was basketball, volleyball, softball or baseball.

We can’t have games without officials, yet game after game we sit there as these officials are verbally and personally attacked like they are running for office.

Mr. Younkin had no problem with people yelling at him. He actually seemed to enjoy it because it seemed almost impossible to erase the smile of Mr. Younkin’s face.

Even when given the impossible task of officiating the Butte High-Butte Central basketball game, Mr. Younkin was all smiles as he called travel after travel.

And, boy did he make a lot of traveling calls. Mr. Younkin holds the unofficial world record for traveling calls.

The traveling taco on the school lunch menu was merely a taco until Mr. Younkin laid eyes on it.

Whether it was thick skin or just a terrific sense of humor, Mr. Younkin always rolled with the punches that came with officiating.

Once, when he was the home plate umpire at a high school softball game, the newspaper ran a photo of Mr. Younkin clearly making the wrong call on a play at the plate. Even a blind man could see he got it wrong.

Some officials would have threatened to sue the paper. Mr. Younkin just laughed. He had a blast as he was teased about the call for the rest of the season.

Not many people are like that, and that is why we have an official’s shortage across the nation.

Why in the world would anybody want to officiate a game when your reward is a lifetime worth of verbal abuse over the course of two hours?

So taking it easy on the men and women who allow our schools to have games would be a fitting tribute to Mr. Younkin.

If you are already nice to officials, then another way to honor Mr. Younkin is to become an official yourself.

The personal attacks on officials might already be too much for the official pools to completely bounce back.

The official shortage is already so great that we have to play some high school football games on Thursday nights to help cover all the games. Could Tuesdays and Wednesday’s be next?

It doesn’t matter if you are officiating high school, middle school, grade school or Little League. It certainly didn’t matter to Mr. Younkin. He refereed everything.

He was more than a ref when it came to the young kids. He also helped coach the kids who needed an extra hand. He did his best to make sure every kid had fun.

If your job is flexible enough to do it, it is really easy to become an official. All you have to do is pay your yearly dues to the Montana Officials Association, study a little bit, pass an open-book test and buy a uniform.

And really, can you think of a better vantage point to watch a high school football game than as the back judge? You’re also a long way from anybody who might be yelling at you, and the white cap takes most of the heat in a football game.

Granted, basketball is more difficult because the crowd is right on top of you, and not everyone has what it takes to put up with that.

A lot of people out there, however, could pull it off. Look at how many former players attend every game. If they could put up with screaming coaches, they certainly have what it takes to at least give refereeing a shot.

Plus, they have the advantage of knowing the game from a player’s perspective.

Only one of about 9,000 former players end up officiating these days, and we need an infusion of youth more than ever. Many of our officials are in their fourth, fifth or even sixth decade of work.

If you can’t officiate for whatever reason, you can still help out. How about ponying up the money for a young official to pay his or her dues?

How about talking a young athlete into officiating?

Nobody recruited and trained more young officials than Mr. Younkin. Conservatively speaking, I bet more than half of the Butte volleyball pool is officiating directly because of his smiling encouragement.

Now that Mr. Younkin is calling traveling in the great beyond, it is time to make sure his legacy is a lasting one.

Sports officials are disappearing faster than the bees and cacao plants. When they go away, the only basketball we’ll have left is the KC League.

So it’s time to honor Mr. Younkin and step up to do your part to make sure this doesn’t happen, even if that means just keeping your mouth shut.

If you can’t do that, then the least you can do is head over and paint Mr. Younkin’s garage.

— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at

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