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Fellow officials bid farewell to one of their favorites


By Earl Vaughan Jr.

In a special tribute to their fellow official Bruce Stephens, members of the Southeastern Athletic Officials Association served as his pallbearers at Beaver Dam Baptist Church Thursday, dressing in their football officiating attire. Pictured from left are Darryl Page, John Jones, Brad Allen, Tony Haire, Jeremy Hall and Anthony Maynor. Eddie Melvin was originally scheduled to participate but was unable to attend.

Officiating colleagues of the late Bruce Stephens remember him as a person dedicated to the highest standards of the profession. But they also remember a man who had a humorous side that allowed him to enjoy good relationships with both the coaches and athletes whose games he called.

Referee Bruce Stephens during a basketball game at South View High School. photo by K. Kassens

Stephens, who suffered a series of strokes late in life and was eventually diagnosed with cancer, died last week at the age of 73. He spent almost half his life, 36 years, officiating everything including baseball, softball, basketball and football.

It was his years calling basketball and football games as a member of the Southeastern Athletic Officials Association where Stephens earned the reputation as not only a top official but a guy that people just enjoyed being around.

He officiated numerous state and regional championship games in football and basketball, along with calling the North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star game in Greensboro.

His peers honored him with two major awards, the Dick Knox Distinguished Service Award and the Don Kitts Mentoring Award for his work with younger officials.

“He liked to have fun,’’ said Neil Buie, a former official and the regional supervisor for football officials in the SAOA. “He was a happy-go-lucky guy, but when he got on the ballfield or the basketball court, he was as focused as anybody I’ve ever seen.’’

Officials are required to attend in-season clinics to keep them up to date on the rules and their responsibilities.

Buie said he never remembered seeing Stephens attend a clinic when he wasn’t carrying a three-ring binder packed with notes, articles and game assignments.

“He was an excellent rules man,’’ Buie said. “More than likely, he could answer a rules question without looking it up.’’

Retired official Richard Reames spent many years calling games with Stephens and said the two took a similar approach.

“We just melded together on the floor,’’ Reames said. “We were always there because it was a game. We enjoyed the game, and we enjoyed the kids.’’

Tony Haire also officiated with Stephens. He said Stephens took pride in his mechanics - the process of signaling to the players, coaches and spectators what the call was on a given play.

“He didn’t want to be embarrassed on the field,’’ Haire said.

At Stephens’ funeral Thursday, which was held at Beaver Dam Baptist Church, Haire compiled a special tribute at the family’s request. He assembled six pallbearers who all had ties to Stephens through officiating.

Brad Allen, currently an official in the National Football League, joined Anthony Maynor as basketball officials with whom Stephens worked.

Haire also recruited John Jones and Jeremy Hall, two younger officials Stephens encouraged while they were still in high school.

Rounding out the group were Haire and another veteran official, Eddie Melvin.

All the officials wore their football officiating gear and black hats. The lead official of a crew in football wears the white hat, which was placed on top of Stephens’ coffin as he led a crew for the final time.