When “Oklahoma” began to play over the State Fair Arena loudspeakers before the Class A boys basketball championship game Saturday, Butch Vietta started to feel his heart race.
Vietta doesn’t know how many small-school state championship games he has officiated at the Big House. He’s had the opportunity to call state tournaments in 15 or 16 seasons of the 35 he’s been a referee.
And Saturday’s Glencoe victory over Kiowa was his last. He’ll still ref some regular-season games next year, and he’ll continue to mentor young officials as he tries to get more of them into the profession.
The milkman from Atoka doesn’t try to hide his emotion when he talks about his passion for his job as a small-school basketball referee.
When that music starts, and they play “Oklahoma” right before the game, your heart just starts beating. If your heart doesn’t start pounding hard before you call a game out here, you’re doing the wrong thing. There are a lot of officials who deserve this honor — and it is an honor, just like it’s an honor for the kids to get to play here. If you don’t want to do it with your whole heart and soul, then you probably need to be doing something else.
The atmosphere at the Big House is so much different than your every-night gym. The crowds are pumped, the players are excited. As an official, I’ve been very blessed to have the opportunity to come up here and call some really good games. It’s in my blood. I watched my dad call games for 38 years, and that’s how I got started.
The first time I stepped on the floor at the Big House was in the early ’90s and I was calling with Wes Hurlbutt. I was scared to death, and Wes knew I was. I was just shaking. And Wes goes, “Man, this place is really bigger than I thought it was.” I looked at him, and he goes, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people in here.” I told him, “C’mon man, you know I’m nervous.” He told me everything was fine and he was just trying to get me to relax. After I blew the first whistle, it was alright, but man, that first whistle was a tough one.
I was sitting out in the stands about three or four years ago, and this girl was talking about playing in a state championship game. I asked her who she played for, and she told me. I asked who they played against, and she told me. I said “I called that game.” And she goes, “I don’t remember you.” Her dad was the coach, so she called him and asked him, and sure enough, I had called their game. I told her that was the ultimate compliment a player can give you, that they don’t remember that you called their game. If they don’t remember you, you must’ve been pretty close to perfect. You’re always gonna miss some stuff, but if the players don’t remember you, that’s the ultimate honor for an official.