Give Patricia Laing a whistle and a basketball game and she’s right at home.
The Western alumna, BA’54, who officiated high school and university basketball for more than four decades, making countless calls on the court, finally received a call of her own – from the Ontario Basketball Association (OBA) Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
For her work on and off the court, the “legendary basketball official” will be inducted into the OBA Hall of Fame at a halftime ceremony of the Toronto Raptors game this Tuesday.
“I didn’t know anything about this, so when Basketball Ontario called me, it was right out of the blue. Are you sure you want to talk to me?” Laing jokingly wondered.
But, considering her lengthy basketball resume, it’s safe to say the decision was a slam dunk.
As is the case for many officials, Laing’s basketball career began as a player, here at Western. As an undergraduate student in the Department of Physical Health and Recreation Education, she played for Western’s intermediate, and then intercollegiate, basketball teams during her time at university.
After graduation, Laing attended the Ontario College of Education at the University of Toronto. She went on to teach and coach at Whitby District High School before returning to Western as an instructor and women’s basketball coach from 1957-59.
“I came as a teacher, and it wasn’t until after I got there, I found out I’d be taking over the women’s basketball team,” said Laing, who now lives with her husband, Bob, in Fonthill, Ont. “The woman who was supervisor at the time, Elfrida Berzins, was a very successful basketball and volleyball coach and I was following her, so that was tough,” she said. “But with help from Paul Thomas and Jack Fairs, who loaned me his two huge coaching books, I started coaching.”
Success came pretty quick for Laing. Under her leadership, Western won the Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Union (WIAU) Championships in 1958 and 1959. It was then Laing decided to come off the sidelines and pick up a whistle. By 1964, she was selected to referee the WIAU basketball championships, which she continued to do until 1972.
“When I came back to London, I took it (officiating) up. They were kind of twisting my arm,” said Laing. “But I learned a lot more about the game that way, doing intercollegiate championships and high school games. I enjoyed it, for the most part. I loved the running part of it and I met many great people, which was a big factor. I still keep in touch with a lot of them.”
Shortly after beginning as an official, Laing began to get involved in the administrative aspects, starting at the local level as chair of the London Board of Women Officials (1961-63), and then the Niagara District of Women Officials (1965-66) before moving to the regional level with the District Committee of Officials Rating Board (1968-74). Laing later served as vice-president of the Ontario Association of Basketball Officials (1983-85), before being elected president in 1985.
At the international level, Laing also held numerous roles with the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO) and remains a member of the Constitution and Women’s Coordinating Committees.
While a Hall of Fame nod is huge, Laing has been recognized before for her officiating prowess, both locally and internationally. She has been a Life Member of IAABO since 2002 and Niagara District Basketball Referees’ Association since 1987; an Honorary Member of the Ontario Association of Basketball Officials since 2002; recipient of the Canadian Association of Basketball Officials Ted Earley Memorial Award in 1991 and received an Ontario Basketball Recognition Award in 2002.
What’s more, Laing was the inaugural recipient, in 1989, of Western’s Women’s Athletic Alumnae honour, named the Elfrida Berzins Award, the person Laing succeeded when she started coaching at Western. That same year, Laing received a Special Achievement Award for basketball from the provincial government.
Laing’s contributions to sport in the province extend beyond the basketball court to the volleyball court as well. She had a similar 41-year career as a volleyball official from 1959 to 2001, which also involved administrative positions with the Niagara District Board of Volleyball Officials, who recognized her as a Life Member in 2005.
Looking back, Laing is grateful to her husband and two children, Marilyn and Scott, who played a big role in allowing her to officiate so many games almost every day of the week.
“My family was very supportive and had to get dinner out of the oven for me quite a few times,” she recalled. “It was very important to me to have them support me like they did.”
As a player, coach and official, she has no regrets. Well, maybe a couple.
“There are probably a few calls I may have made in a few games that I’d like to change,” Laing laughed.
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