THE FRONT ROW WITH MARK NELKE: Tales from the Road: He ain’t a problem, he’s my brother — and other ref tales (Part 3)

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For a few years about two decades ago, the bigger Idaho schools in District 1 combined with Washington schools (at various times) like East Valley, West Valley, Cheney, Clarkston and Colville for a reincarnation of the Border League in football and basketball.

The Border League was “awesome,” Lake City boys basketball coach Jim Winger recalled.

“In the heat of the Border League, West Valley was our rival, even more than the Idaho schools,” he said. “We only won once at West Valley in all that time, and they never won here. They were flat-out wars. ... intense ... student sections. And it was good basketball.”

Winger told the story of a Lake City game at West Valley one season. Jim’s younger brother Mike, who like Jim played at Coeur d’Alene High, was at the game. Mike Winger went on to play at Gonzaga for Dan Fitzgerald, and now lives in Spokane.

“And if you know my brother, he literally is a saint,” Jim Winger said. “Quite possibly the nicest human being on the face of the earth. He went to get popcorn and a pop, or something, and there was a timeout. And he was coming back to sit down, and he went around the (Lake City) huddle, and went and sat down. And the ref thought he said something or was being obnoxious and was out on the floor. And my brother wouldn’t say a word. He’d be the last person to say anything to anybody at a game. So the next thing I know, the West Valley AD comes over to my brother and says, ‘You have to leave the game. The referees have kicked you out.’”

“For what?,” Mike said. “I went and got a popcorn.”

“Well, you were out on the floor.”

“I just went around the huddle to sit down — there was nowhere to go,” Mike responded.

“Well, you have to leave.”

“I saw it and I was mad, I got on their AD a little bit, and I got the ref over and said it was baloney. ‘What are you doing to my brother?’

“He said ‘Well, I saw this and that ... ’

“Anyway, we ended up losing, in a wild game. I get a phone call, it was from this ref ... he called to apologize,” Jim Winger said. ‘I was totally wrong,’ the ref said, ‘and I know who your brother is, and I just feel awful.’

“I said no problem.”

“And so the next year, we’re at East Valley, and this ref’s on the game. And he said, ‘I’m still sick about that.’

“Hey, stuff happens,” Jim Winger told him.

“I’ll make it up to you,” the ref said.

“What in the world does that mean?” Winger wondered.

“So I tell (Lake City assistant coaches) Dwight (Wilson) and Kelly Reed, ‘That’s the guy that kicked my brother out for no reason, and apologized.’

“So it’s a wild game there, too. Kinda close, back and forth.

“About 20 seconds left, we’re up 2 or 3, something happens under the basket and we definitely knock it out of bounds. It’s off us.

“The guy says, ‘It’s Lake City ball.’

“What in the world ... ” Winger thought.

“He runs by and kinda winks at me and I go, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’

“I looked at Kelly and Dwight ... ‘Well, there you go.’

“And we won the game.”

LEWIS SPEELMON said he received his share of technicals while boys basketball coach at Clark Fork High.

“I can’t remember the guy’s name, but back in the day we could blackball officials,” Speelmon said. “We were playing Bonners Ferry at home. That’s when I had the Heller boys (in the late 1970s, early 80s). I had this inbounds play, it was a close game. Bonners Ferry was really good that year, and we were really good that year. David (Hanna) was at the elbow, took two steps toward the sideline. The inbound passer threw it into the guard, and he cut by David. This Bonners Ferry kid went by David and elbowed him right underneath the eye. Of course we’re in white uniforms. And he’s just bleeding like crazy, the front of his shirt was all red.

“The official doesn’t even see it. He doesn’t even know how it happened. That’s why I blackballed him. Anyhow, I was still pissed on Monday, so when the sports reporter (from the Daily Bee in Sandpoint) interviewed me, I put it out in the paper what a poor job they did in not seeing this.

“And Jim Wilund was the head of the board of control at the time, and of course, a good basketball official. And boy, did I get a stinging letter (of reprimand) from him, that you don’t do that, etc. ... and I realized after I did it, you don’t wash the dirty laundry (in the paper), there’s other ways to do it.”

DAVE FEALKO, who coached girls at Coeur d’Alene and then at Lake City High, said he said his fair share to the officials, “but I used to referee myself, so I tried to at least be halfway civil.

Fealko, who starred at Mullan High in the 1960, reffed before he became a basketball coach, and then even reffed the first couple of years he was Viking girls coach.

“Oh, it definitely helped (having reffed before), because I knew about how far I could go, before they were going to blow the whistle and ding you,” Fealko said. “I used to have to tell (Dave) Stockwell, my assistant, and (Bill) Tinder, my assistant, ‘That’s enough, he’s about ready to ding us.’

“I knew what you could say, and what you couldn’t say, and when you needed to shut up.”

JOHN DRAGER recalled a game when his Mullan boys basketball team played at Clark Fork.

“The bleachers are right next to the floor,” he recalled. “Clark Fork got a rebound, and the guy turned around and threw an outlet pass, threw it over the kid’s head and it went into the second row of the bleachers. And a guy from Clark Fork grabs it in the bleachers, and threw it to the kid on the fast break, and he scores ...

“I said, ‘The guy threw it out of bounds.’”

“Sit down,” Drager was told.

“Well, naturally I got a technical.”

Back in the day, when Mullan played Wallace, they’d pack the gym, Drager remembered.

This particular game was at Civic Auditorium in Wallace.

“It was a great game,” he said. “It came down to the last 10 seconds of the game, and we shot the ball and the lights went out while the ball was in the air. The lights don’t come back on. We swear to God it went in, and they said it didn’t, so we had to finish that game up in Mullan on a different date.”

Then there was a game up in Priest River one time.

“They went on a fast break, and we fouled them, and the official comes up and goes, ‘Foul, and count the basket.’

“I said, ‘It didn’t even come close to going in.’”

“Count the basket, and sit down, Drager,” he was told.

“I was at the (District 1) board of control on Monday (to complain), but the basket didn’t go in,” Drager said.

COACHES: If you are a current or former basketball coach in North Idaho, and have stories you’d like to share of crazy bus trips, humorous encounters with referees or bizarre occurences during games, feel free to email me at

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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