Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On the Passing of Longtime NCAA and WNBA Referee Bonita Spence

Updating with statement from NCAA's Anucha Browne

By Mel Greenberg

Because of the number of notes sent the Guru's way Monday about the news of the passing of longtime and highly respected NCAA and WNBA women's referee Bonita Spence, this is a short piece for now to provide what amounts to an answer for the moment and to make brief note of her career.

But you should know the Guru tapped into his email networks in the conferences, the NCAA itself, and the WNBA to request and collect from all those who wish to contribute some remembrances and stories that are longer than 140 character twitter notes and as soon as enough time elapses to allow responses to come this way, the Guru will offer a larger celebration of her life.

Since this arrived a little while ago from the NCAA, here's a statement now from Anucha Browne.

"We were deeply saddened when we heard the news of Bonita Spence’s passing yesterday. I had personally known Bonita since high school and had always admired her integrity and spirit.

" Her long-time officiating career, numerous NCAA championships and her mentoring of many young officials will help carry her legacy forward in the game. We offer our sincere condolences to Bonita’s family and friends.”

-Anucha Browne
NCAA Vice President, Women’s Basketball Championships

But this is how Monday rolled in terms of the news business because when the Guru was playing catch-up on twitter from taking shuteye in the mid-morning hours, he thought he was behind the news in seeing a few RIP tweets pop up and then after he added his own quick reaction tweet he found that his tweet became breaking news to many followers and went viral.

The Guru was also tied up in non-basketball matters during the day and didn't get on the case until early Monday night.

The news of Bonita's passing came as shock to most because there had been no report of her being presently ill or had there been a report in the past that would make one think that whatever she was suffering with had flared up again.

There was no report of Bonita being a victim of crime or involved with injuries from some mishap -- auto or whatever.

You should know back in the Guru's active days in-house at The Inquirer in doing rewrite to get wire stories into the roundups, whenever the Guru would see a report of the passing of a noteworthy person, he would always be asked by the editor in charge if it did not appear, what was the cause of his or hers passing.

And if he replied the reports didn't have it, he was then asked to hunt around for a while, even make calls if there were potential sources, and if that effort failed, then a sentence would be inserted, saying the cause of his or her passing was not immediately known.

If it was known that the family didn't want a specific but gave some indication we might delicately say after a long or short illness.

So in this situation in writing this at sunrise -- the Guru was also working overnight on updating the coaching carousel blog with the hire at San Jose State, which is a delicate maneuver in the apps he must use -- baring something out there he hasn't seen, for the moment the answer to the most common question asked is the cause of Bonita's passing is not immediately known.

The Guru contacted several persons who he thought would be in position to have some information and they, too, had no knowledge and one source even noted in the call the Guru made at 9 p.m. that even Bonita's referring colleagues had no information.

The only information in the way of a report was at a newer nontraditional website and that was a well-written roundup of everything we were saying and made no mention of a cause. That became the source and only source of a later burst of tweets.

In talking to a Guru source, he mentioned that a coach had responded in the affirmative when asked on twitter if Bonita had been ill but the source said that may not be true and several rumors are out there.

So that is the long and short answer from a news standpoint since the Guru is here to serve when possible.

But for now, first as the women's board representative of the United States Basketball Writers Associatiion (USBWA), on behalf of the organization, the Guru offers condolences to all of Bonita's family and friends.

On a personal note, the Guru can say he knew Bonita quite well and at many games she usually came over before the tip to say hello during warmups or during a long TV timeout may ask about a big game going on elsewhere at the same time.

She cared about her profession but also cared about the game not only in the 40-minutes and overtime of action but of the players, coaches and everyone else around the sport.

The Guru heard one story Monday night that will be incorporated and enahnced in the bigger blog to come of how every year at the time of the former Big East tournament in Hartford there would be one of those fun games played in front of no one -- this one between the staffs of the Big East and XL Center -- and Bonita if assigned to the tournament would usually volunteer to be one of the referees.

She was on the crew during the infamous clockgate controversy in Knoxville between Rutgers and Tennessee when the game should have been over in Rutgers' favor but a freeze of the clock allowed enough time that a foul was called and Tennessee went to the line and won the game.

The ESPN replay of the nationally-televised game showed the error.

After universal condemnation of the crew it was learned a few days later that Spence told the other two officials who were deciding anything but the error to look at the monitor and she was waved off the by the other two -- who, by the way, continued to work deep into the NCAA tournament that season a month later.

Several days after that game the Guru was covering a non-descript contest in a lower mid-major conference and Bonita showed up as part of the crew and came over prior to the tip to give a friendly greeting.

The Guru, knowing she was at the big-time level of referees in terms of games and conferences worked, jokingly asked if her being in the arena was punishment.
Bonita just gave a certain body gesture amounting to don't look at me, which appeared to give creedence to that report.

To this day when that game comes up in certain circles, no one has ever countered to say the report was false.

So that is what the Guru had in mind when he noted in Monday's tweet that Bonita had integrity.

What is a testament was the wide number of reponses to Monday's news from players and coaches on their tweeter accounts.

So for now that is all that can be said here, but look for a larger celebration in the next week and the Guru suspects some of his colleagues will also be offering coverage.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rest in Peace, Bonita. You were loved, respected, and admired by many female referees. You were a true role model. Thank you from a member of the last all female referee board in NJ, the now defunct Shore Board #4. You helped make us strong for many years.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Agnus Berenato said...

Bonita was what we all want in a referee, role model, educator and was a great lady. Her smile and court side chatter will be missed by coaches, student athletes, and fans alike. I see you smiling Bonita! Agnus Berenatob

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Lin Dunn said...

What I loved about Bonita Spence, the referee, was that she officiated with great expertise, poise and composure! She knew the " game" came first ...not her! I 've been coaching in the women's game for 43 years and I can't think of an official I respected more than her! It's a HUGE loss for our women's game to lose the best of the best! My condolences to her family and friends. Lin Dunn

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