First person: Longtime basketball official overcomes adversity

Freedom New Mexico: Kevin Wilson Tom Stroh, 59, is officiating in his 18th and final state basketball tournament.

Tom Stroh, 59, of Lovington has officiated college and high school basketball in southeastern New Mexico since 1972 and holds the record for officiating in the most state basketball tournaments. This year will be his 18th and last because he is retiring. What makes Stroh’s longevity more remarkable is has an artificial left arm.

About the accident: I lost my arm in an oil-field accident. We were digging a ditch for a pipeline and it got caught in a chain and it just ripped it off. At the time, I was playing softball and coaching and working in the oil fields during the summer. But you’ve got to go on; can’t give up. It made me more mature a little faster.

Official difficulties: While I’m officiating, the most difficult thing with the arm is that I don’t want to make contact with a player. I don’t want to hurt them. Most people look past it. Sometimes I’ve got to kind of earn the respect of people. But if I don’t, I just move on.

On retiring: It’s time to go on and let the younger ones have it. I always look at it as getting paid to work out. I have arthritis and I hurt all the time.

Memories: I’ve been calling Clovis since Jimmy Joe (Robinson) was head coach. I’ve seen a lot of big names. Back when there were only two officials a game, and you still had to make it down the court, I remember stopping and watching dunks and then remembering where I was suppose to be.

Traveling man: If you are going to call high school ball you are going to travel. You just have to deal with it. It wears on you. Monday you’ll call two college games, Tuesday a high school game, Wednesday you’ll have a meeting and it just continues.

Favorite things at state: The kind of camaraderie the officials have with each other. You get to talk to older officials that are retired and hear their stories.

Worst heckler: I had the bus driver from Roswell, I think. And he was giving me trouble. And there weren’t many people in the stands. So I finally went over to him and said “Sir, you either have to get off me, or get on the bus.” I don’t kick many fans out. I don’t really let them under my skin. If you concentrate on what you need to, you don’t have time to deal with it.

On the Clovis-Hobbs rivalry: I’ve called a lot of Clovis/Hobbs games. There’s nothing like it. You can’t explain it. All those people screaming. Unless you’ve done it, you’ll never know what it’s like.

— Compiled by
Liliana Castillo