History of OVBABO


A history of the basketball officials was a project begun with the idea of starting a process whereby the men and women who contributed to the game by officiating could be recognized and a record of their work be made known to the present group of officials so they would know a little of their past colleagues.

The history has been divided into two parts. First, an attempt was made to record what was written by the local press and thus have a somewhat objective record of events. The second more personal look was based on an interview with Charlie Diffin and Wayne Lewis, two long time members of the association who are part of the collective memory we rely on for knowledge of members past and their exploits. Many of the stories they have told me in our discussion I was able to present here in part two, as a more subjective recollection of events. Many of the stories they had memory of, included individuals whose names may be revealed in time but for now will remain stored in the research annex until a few more years have passed. I thank them for their effort in discussing the past days and hope that over time, we may well add to their memories to provide our board more details of yesteryear.

Part One – The Games the Newspapers Saw

Basketball in Ottawa has been played for over a century. Although James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario only a half hour from Ottawa, he was long removed from the area when he invented the game in 1891. His original rules that made up the game must have had someone to enforce them, however the history of those who came to officiate the game seems lost in the mist of time. I suspect that for the first games, the players refereed themselves. As time went on and officials became part of the story, it was often only with one referee that a game would proceed. In researching the history of the officials in the game, as in most sports, it is difficult to find information within the newspaper reporting of the day. For the most part, newspapers report on the players and scores of games and only when an incident or major transgression occurs or where one team complains about the officiating (of course only after they have lost), do the referees get recognized.

The first reported games of basketball were reported in the Ottawa Journal. In 1899, the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club (OAAC), lost to the YMCA with a recorded store of 8-0. It was not reported who the referees were (although some may suggest Charlie Diffin and Jimmy Ward!).

By 1900, the OAAC it was reported won in the first tournament held in the city. It included the YMCA and the Ottawa Collegiate Institute (Lisgar). Again the officials, if in fact there actually were any, were not named in the newspaper reporting. A league was formed at this point, which continued in existence for 60 years. As the league continued throughout the years, a local team in 1925 – most of them high school athletes – won the Canadian title. Opposing teams were from across the country with games against teams from UBC, Montreal AAA, and St. John’s Trojans.

Ladies were included in the game early in the century with a game March 18, 1902, between City Sports Theatrical Company and the men’s boxing class of the OAAC. The game, played at the Grand Opera Company House recorded a 6-6 final score. It seems the players were “allowed to play” by whomever the officials were, as the paper reported that the women were “well versed in the art of tackling”.

The First World War years may have changed the face of sport everywhere in the country with young men being in the military; however basketball in Ottawa was still played as shown by the report of March 31st, 1917. The Ottawa Citizen reported on a game at the YMCA for the benefit of returning soldiers – a tough game as might be expected with soldiers involved- where a player was “knocked out in the second period when play was exceptionally strenuous”. There is no record of any foul being called! For the first time however official’s names were recorded; the referee was Stan Graham and the umpire Red Soper.

A Dominion juvenile championship between Ottawa and Toronto was held May 18th, 1927, where the teams played a home and home series of games. The Ottawa game report while not naming the officials demonstrated that the game has maybe not changed all that much in some regards. The officials called 43 personal fouls, gave out “many” technical fouls to the Toronto team, and ejected a player after continuous instructions were given to the officials.

Over the next years, the game continued to advance at various levels and by the 1920’s this growth became a problem. Nov.19th, 1927 the newspaper reported that the game was outgrowing its’ facilities and needed gym space. Nevertheless the game was well organized and was regarded as a major sport with strong officials. The leagues were not only growing locally but nationally and international competitions were discussed with the Olympics being considered to have basketball made a demonstration sport with exhibition games. Already at this point in time the game was considered “the” major American winter sport.

Reports of game championships throughout the country indicated this growth and that it was played by men and women. Reports of Ottawa playing off against Quebec in men and women’s play in the 1930’s had many games at various levels of play.

In 1938, the Montreal Gazette reported a School for Referees was being established in Ottawa by Moe Appel and Jimmy Turner. Rules classes were held and officials had to be carded in order to be assigned to do city games. Written tests were to be passed, practical workouts scheduled, proper uniforms were mandated. All the games at the time were played at the YMCA, at that time situated in downtown Ottawa, the High School of Commerce (situated then at one end of what is now Glebe Collegiate), and the University of Ottawa
Wartime years must have had an impact on the game as it did with all areas of life during the early 1940’s. Nevertheless, in the post war years with returning soldiers, it seemed as though the programs continued from where they left off. By 1948, a city senior league was running and the officials for the league were assigned by a graduate of the “School for Basketball Referees” run by Johnny Greenberg. The local football team, the Ottawa Rough Riders had an off-season team in the senior league which was played then in the Coloseum building at Lansdowne Park. After a year at the helm Greenberg resigned and a new executive for the officials association took over.

Over the 1950’s the game and the referees association continued to grow and become more organized. Meetings annually provided rules training and local executives allowed for the assigning of games. A Nov. 15th, 1957 report announced Ross Beck as the association’s new President, Abe Mosion as the Referee in Chief, and Don Hargreaves as the Treasurer. It was an historic moment as for the first time Ottawa was affiliated with the Ontario Board of Approved Basketball officials.

Up to 1962, high school games in Ottawa were assigned one referee and a high school student from the home team was the umpire. Game fees were $1.50 per game to start. These fees increased over the 1950’s to $6 per game. An attempt to raise these in 1964 raised the ire of one local sports reporter who felt the high cost of officiating was the cause of schools not having teams.

Part 2 – Personal Memories

The history of the Ottawa Valley Board of Approved Basketball officials as it stands now was begun during the 1950’s. As no specific records were kept locally the information acquired presently comes from recollections of officials who were part of the board at that time. In particular, the memories of Mr. Charlie Diffin (b. January 13,1930) were invaluable in creating a past even before the association itself was created. Mr. Diffin’s memory at age 81 is clear about events transpiring 60 years ago. His facility with names is only bettered by the fact that he can usually relate a story about the official being spoken of. His long time role of appointer has had “Charlie” come in contact with innumerable officials over that time. While we attempt to write a history of the board with the research available, we also have the memories of past members who recall their favourite moments. The names of many have to be withheld to protect the guilty.

Basketball in Ottawa had been going on for some time as seen in the newspaper reports, before the creation of the present board. Games were played and refereed since the turn of the century.

Mr. Diffin recalled that the B’nai Brith were one of the first leagues in the city where the game was played consistently with officials. One of the later assignors in OVBABO games Mr. Jack Barrett had his start refereeing there. Mr. Diffin points out that before there was an officials association, each league went out and got their own officials. The YMCA, Jewish Community league, Senior City men’s, and high schools all picked their own referees. In addition there was a separate Women’s Association for officials. This group was active up until the late 1950’s with ads in the paper for women to attend training sessions at the RA Centre for the 6 person game that girls played where the guards and forwards were restricted to specific areas of the floor. The name associated with the group was Ms. Marion Rainboth. Eventually, OVBABO absorbed the separate women’s group when the rules became the same for males and females.

Mr. Diffin had begun his career after graduating from Glebe high school. He had been an athlete of note and recalls that he met one of our present senior officials Mr. Jim Ward, who he worked with for 40 years, when Charlie was asked to coach a baseball little league team that Jim was on!

Charlie recalls the first assignor being Mr. Sam Welcher and later Johnny Greenberg who took over that position. A season’s work would be 6 or 7 games for a young 16 year old!
Even up to the 1950’s 15 – 20 games would be a full complement of games for a season. Johnny Greenberg was followed by Mr. Al “Sony” Adams and then by Mr. Abe Mosion as appointer. It seems under Abe the association became more structured acquiring the IAABO accreditation as Board 232 in the 1950’s. As of March 1953, Abe had been reelected to run the board. In Charlie recalling rule sets, the board always used the National Federation Rule Set.

Mr. Mosion suffered a heart attack in the early 1960’s and at that point Charlie was asked to take on the assigning.

For the most part there were no games Saturday. With the start of the Senior City league, Charlie received a call from the president of one of the teams (Trojans) and was asked to referee at the Coliseum in Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park. He was all of 18 doing the senior men. He called Abe to check that it was permitted and as Abe did not appoint those games, he told him he could go ahead. Charlie recalls doing the game with a Dr. Robillard from the USA. His experience at the Senior City games was successful and they continued to have him officiate their games. At this time, Mr. Matt Anthony who was the football and basketball coach at the University of Ottawa saw him and called him to come to referee the university games. Carleton was not yet in operation and came into existence later. When they did come in, Charlie recalls them playing an U.S. Air Force team that was down one point with 10 seconds left to go in a game played at Fisher Park High School. Air Force had thought they would have an easy game and were not happy with their situation. A foul was called in their favour however and although they had last possession, they could not get the last shot off and lost. That was the only time he recalls needing a police escort and leaving through a window to get to his car!

It seems the association being small and with many fewer games, had less need of a structured executive as it does today. Abe Mosion seemed to run the whole show. The physical boundaries of the association however was much more extensive than at present. While Ottawa was the centre, the board covered games from Arnprior /Renfrew/Cobden/Deep River to the west and Hawkesbury/Lachute/Brownsberg to Vankleek Hill in the east; Alexandria/and Cornwall to the south and east; Winchester/ North Dundas /Brockville and Prescott to the southwest; and Kemptville /Richmond south of the city. As well, the association covered the Protestant school board of Western Quebec (Aylmer/Hull/Buckingham/Shawville) and later the Roman Catholic school board Hull to Limbour. Eventually as these areas became established they took over their own assigning. Eventually Montreal’s association complained about our crossing provincial lines and that coverage ended.

The universities as of the 1950’s did not have rules as to how officials were assigned. Queen’s would bring in U.S. officials from Massena and Syracuse, New York. The Ottawa Board got called and Frank Tindal, the Queen’s coach, asked for our officials to come to Kingston eventually. There were no provincial rules against Ottawa board officials travelling to Kingston. Charlie recalled he would also be called to officiate university games in Toronto as well and did a great number there.

Travel to such areas as distant as Deep River to cover games was paid for by a $5 gas fee. As women officials did girls games, two women and two men would make the trip to do double headers. Charlie remembers the complaints raised by the female officials who were being charged $2 each for gas by the driver, when their game fee was not much more! Game fees when Charlie began were $1.50 a game but this was much better than the $1.00 a game he got for football to stand out in the cold and rain!

By the 1970’s the season covered the months from October to February. The assignor’s books indicate that there were 8 high school games in the city per day, the RA men’s league, the Hull senior league, the Ottawa Senior City men’s league, National Defense league, YMCA, and the Belles women’s league to be covered with assignments at night. As well games were covered for out of town high schools in Brockville, Prescott, Maxville, Hawkesbury, Buckingham, Seaway and St. Lawrence Cornwall

Of note in the 1973 season, former CFL player Bob O’Billovich was coaching Algonquin College men and having come from the USA where he had seen it used, he suggested to Charlie the Ottawa Board move to a 3 man crew of officials. The board researched the mechanics of such and continued it until it died out in 1976. It was many years before it was resurrected again at the university level.

Over the years since the 1960’s many superb officials were involved in the game in the Ottawa area. It is always difficult to name a few and leave other worthy names out. Nevertheless, some of the officials who were instrumental in establishing the basketball referees association include Abe Mosion, Charlie Diffin, Jimmy Ward, John Cullen, Wayne Ellis, Al Rae, Jim Corcoran, Wayne Lewis, Brian D’Arcy, Terry Provost, Billy Magnus to name a few- have refereed and given of their time to advance the association to where it is today. The present board of the Ottawa Valley owes these and countless others their thanks and know that their work continues to produce officials of high quality recognized across the country.

Author’s note:

This excerpt is in no way intended to be a definitive history but hopefully a start in creating a history of the men and women who provided Ottawa Basketball a service without which the game could not have advanced to the high level of play it is currently experiencing. I would hope that members might correct inaccuracies in this note and add additional information to the board’s history as it continues in the coming years and more information is acquired.

Paddy Byrne
July 30, 2012