When high school basketball players returned to local courts this fall, one of the most recognizable faces around the game also returned.
Mike McParland has been refereeing local basketball games for five decades and he says he still loves being a part of the game as much as he did when he first started.
McParland played basketball in his high school days at Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute. During his days as a player, he never imagined becoming a referee, but that turned out to be his destiny when he found a notice on a bulletin board while attending Western University in 1969.
“I never had any interest in refereeing at all, but when I saw the notice I thought, maybe I’ll give that a try,” McParland recalls.
Once McParland completed teacher’s college at Western, he returned home to become a full-time elementary school teacher. McParland spent most of his teaching career at Monsignor Lee Catholic School from which he retired in 2001.
When McParland returned home to teach, he also returned to the basketball court. He's never left.
“I enjoy going to every game, and doing my best regardless of the calibre of the game that it is,” McParland said.
“Sometimes you get a team that’s a real powerhouse coming into a smaller school and you know what the result is going to be, but I still referee like it’s going to be a close game all the way because if you don’t, it’s just not fair to the kids," he explained.
McParland says officiating allows him to see the enjoyment of the game from the young players.
“Whether a kid makes a really good shot and gets pumped up, or they make a good dribble or a nice block, it’s good to see them gain confidence and have fun,” he said.
McParland has officiated high-level tournaments such as the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association tournament, and the Orillia Blackball tournament. On top of that is 50 years’ worth of basketball games played in Simcoe County at all sorts of levels.
In a way, McParland is just now entering the most challenging part of his career wearing the black-and-white jersey.
“I did a total knee replacement last January, and I’m going to get the other one done a year from now,” said the 72-year-old.
“Having that total knee replacement kind of adds some challenges to your movements and it’s a new challenge for me," said McParland. "I can’t run and gun like I would like to, but being a more experienced official, I make up for it by knowing where to stand and be in position to make the right calls.”
McParland says the new challenge isn’t a negative thing; rather, it's more a sign of a good, healthy, active lifestyle.
“It’s because of how active I’ve been: 50 years of tennis, decades of refereeing basketball, playing squash and working at the hamburger stand for 56 years, it is all catching up to me,” says McParland who has spent summers at Webers on Highway 11 since it first opened in 1963.
Because of his 'key' role in the busy kitchen at the iconic burger joint, he has long been known, locally, as The Key Man.
McParland has no plans to slow down.
“The only thing that’s going to deter me from continuing to referee is my legs. The spirit of the game is still there, the knowledge of the game is still there, it’s just my movement is the factor," he said.
Not surprising, a love of basketball runs in the family.
“I’d go referee games and have to bring a couple of my kids with me back in the day, so I would give them a ball at half time, and watch them go out and play and they got interested in the game of basketball too, and they went on to play on some teams,” said McParland who is a father of five.
All but one of McParland's kids played basketball and they even followed in their dad's footsteps, donning the stripes.
“I was very fortunate that in October of 1998, my son Josh wanted to become a referee, so he came to some of the referee meetings, we helped him out and I got to referee a couple of games with him at Innisdale in Barrie. That moment was really special,” McParland says with pride.
Tragically, just two months later, in December, Josh was killed in a car accident.
McParland honours his late son at every basketball game he referees by wearing Josh's number 4; it's embroidered into the sleeve of his jersey.
“I wanted to do something for a bit of memory. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about him,” McParland says.
McParland has had the opportunity to referee alongside two of his other boys; his son Johnathan still referees today with his father as a member of the Barrie and District Association of Basketball Officials.
“I’ve refereed with almost all of my boys. It’s really great. They help me along in those seniors’ moments,” McParland chuckled.
He recently received another reason to go to games as his granddaughter began playing. He said he enjoys watching her.
Nobody would be surprised if he serves as a referee for one of her games one day soon.