SOUTH SHORE —
One of the most well-known figures in local sports history is finally lightening his load.
Bob Kouns is now down to officiating just two sports. His 47-year stint as a basketball referee is officially over.
The 74-year-old area icon tossed himself off the hardwood after a visit with his doctor.
“My doctor told me about a year ago that I needed to slow down,” said Kouns, citing age and his heart as reasons why. “When I went and saw him in November, I told him we would do some straight-talking. I said, ‘They’re getting ready to assign basketball games. So I’m going to ask you, are we gonna work?’”
The answer was a suggested no, and Kouns followed doctor’s orders.
“I knew that basketball would be the first to go, with it being more strenuous with running and so forth,” Kouns said. He will continue umpiring baseball, which he’s done for 48 years, and officiating football, a 45-year gig.
On Friday night at the 59th annual Ashland Invitational Tournament, Kouns was presented an encased basketball with “Bob Kouns, 30 AITs” etched onto it, marking the number of AITs he’s worked.
Kouns was also recognized recently in the Boyd County Roundball Classic.
More Kouns statistics include: five Boys Sweet Sixteen tournaments (last in 1997); 43 straight district championships; and 43 consecutive region tournaments.
The final game he called was a 9th Region Tournament contest at Northern Kentucky University last season.
In his first state tournament, he worked a game between the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in Kentucky at Freedom Hall in Louisville.
“Everybody wanted that one,” he remembered fondly.
“I do miss the rush,” he admitted, “that you get when you’ve got a big game, and you know you’ve done a good job. We know, as officials, when we’ve done a good job. You’re going to miss one or two (calls), that’s human nature.”
Kouns estimates he worked about 2,500 basketball games after the last near half-century.
Before becoming a referee, he played the sport, along with baseball.
Kouns was a two-sport standout at South Portsmouth High School, from where he graduated in 1958. He received a full-ride scholarship to play baseball and basketball at William Carey College (now William Carey University), located in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Sid Meade, Kouns’s basketball coach at South Portsmouth, was highly influential in his life. He helped Kouns land at William Carey, and later jumpstarted his officiating career.
“When (Meade) was superintendent at Lewis County, he said, ‘Son, I need umpires for home baseball games. Go get your license,’” Kouns remembered.
A year later, Meade needed some JV basketball games covered.
“That’s how I got started,” said Kouns, adding, “Sid was like a second father to me.”
In addition to both boys’ and girls’ high school games in Kentucky and Ohio, Kouns called some college contests — he worked 10 seasons in the the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He worked college baseball, too, in the Mid-South Conference for 15 years.
Kouns has racked up several accolades, including a 2004 induction into the KHSAA Baseball Hall of Fame, being voted in as a Legend in Kentucky Sports in 2007 and receiving an Outstanding Umpire of the Year award in 2007.
Kouns has worked seven state baseball tournaments and five state football championships.
“(Fellow official) Chris Allen told me I needed to sit down and figure out what all I’ve done in my career,” Kouns said. “So every now and then I’ll think of something, go back and write it down ... I wish I would’ve kept a notebook or diary.”
Kouns doesn’t get rattled on the field (or court) of play. He said he’s never let the noise from the stands get under his skin, even as a 27-year-old rookie.
“You just sort of block it out,” Kouns said. “Sure, you’ll hear some things every now and then.”
His mild-mannered personality also helped him develop a strong rapport with coaches. Plus, his time spent as McKell’s and then Greenup County’s baseball coach helped.
“It’s just a matter of coaches respecting you,” Kouns said. “Coaches could always talk to me, I could talk to them. It’s because I’ve been on both sides.”
Until baseball season, which is just around the corner, Kouns continues to stay active while basketball is played. He’ll walk on the treadmill, soon play golf and help assigning secretary Joe Billman evaluate young officials on the court.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.