For ‘Red’ Simmons, respect, love of the games keeps him going

Written by Bob on October 16th, 2013

012805-RedSimmons115web Richard ‘Red’ Simmons is an outstanding softball player, but his love for athletics throughout his life led him to become an official, a profession that has become an important part of his life. Photo By BOB OTTO

YUCAIPA, CALIF – Richard ‘Red’ Simmons is the first to admit that he can’t cover the infield like he once did in his 25-, 35-, or even 45-year-old playing days. But the sure-fielding glove, whiplash swing of the bat and love for the sport remain as strong today as in his younger days.

Simmons loves softball, and he punches the playing clock without miss every Tuesday and Thursday in the Valley-Wide senior softball program. But the 75-year-old Simmons is also well traveled outside of the San Jacinto Valley as a member of the Top Gun Gold, a senior slowpitch All-Star team from San Diego.

As a shortstop and outfielder, Simmons’ Top Gun Travels have taken him to cities such as Phoenix; Seattle; Des Moines, Iowa; and Reno, Nev., where he has played in several World Tournaments, and has helped Top Gun win championships in various age-divisions.

In the World Tournaments, Simmons has been selected the Most Valuable Player in the 65, 70, and 75 age divisions. His achievements have earned him induction into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in the 2013 class.

As a young man, Simmons played high school and college baseball, and then embarked on a 30-year career playing fastpitch softball. Many of those years in the highly competitive Western Softball Congress.

However, Simmons is far from one-dimensional in the athletic arena. As much as he loves softball, he has a much greater-passion: officiating.

    LOVES CALLING THE GAMES

Simmons has run up and down basketball floors and athletic fields since he began officiating in youth recreational leagues as a teenager. He has officiated hundreds of games – too many to count or remember, he says.

But to give the number crunchers an idea, tabulate these figures: high school football, 25 years; baseball, 35 years; softball, five years; and basketball, 41 years. And Simmons still goes strong. His body is lean and wiry, his mind still sharp, and the end of a career that started when he was 15 has no end in sight.

What keeps him going? Why does the fire burn strong for an occupation that some view as hazardous duty? Simply, he says, “love of the games.” Especially basketball. And he won’t give up officiating basketball any time soon.

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“It’s my favorite by far,” Simmons said. “You have to be on your toes at all times. Baseball is boring as hell – stand around, nothing happens. With basketball, you run up and down the court – you make all your calls on the run, instantaneous.”

    THREE-SPORT ATHLETE

Before the whistle and the striped shirt came a lengthy athletic career. One in which he starred in baseball, fastpitch softball and basketball. Simmons developed slowly from a self-described “skinny” high school kid into a strapping 6-foot-tall 170-pounder, who went on to play basketball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“I was not outstanding in high school,” he said. “I got better as I got older when my growth finally developed and my confidence level increased.”

After college, he played organized basketball until he turned 50 and fastpitch until 60 and slowpitch for the past 15 years. But officiating, that’s where his first love of sports lies.

“It’s a very focal part of my life. I love working with youth, the competitiveness of coaches… working hard and having fun, and getting out of town after the game with your butt intact,” Simmons said with a laugh.

And, he says, officials get a good glimpse into the other side of the human mind. “Officiating is one of the big eye-openers into the other side of people,” he said. “If you can get through a game where the coach is doing everything in his power to win, and you sometimes have to battle with them, and after the game you’re not enemies and there’s respect between us, then you know you’ve done a good job.”

    THAT’S ENOUGH COACH

During the heated moments of a tense game, coaches sometimes show their dislike of an official’s call by shouting angry insults of obscenities at the offending official. It’s at those moments when Simmons shows his “signature” move that he’s taken about all he’s going to take.

When he turns, dips and slightly leans his shoulder toward the offensive voice, and his eyes widen and don’t blink as he lowers his chin – again ever so slightly – that’s the signal: “Coach, you’ve gone far enough.”

Simmons has crossed paths with dozens of coaches throughout Southern California. Some have his utmost respect, while others fall into his blamers-and-whiners file.

“We’re all human. Anyone can have a bad game or miss a call,” Simmons said. “There are all kinds of ways for a team to lose a game – miss free throws, blow layups, commit errors. To look at one call as costing you the game, that’s weak. I don’t mind hearing, ‘Red, you blew that call!’ and then it’s over. I don’t like whiners and criers whining after the game is over.”

On top of Simmons’ list of competitive and fair-minded San Jacinto Valley coaches are Craig Jennings (Hemet High School boys’ basketball) and Norm West (former Hemet High baseball coach).

“Norm was a legend at Hemet,” he said. “He was tough and would holler, grunt, groan and battle during the game, but after the game’s over, it was forgotten. Norm was that kind of guy.”

    THE TRADITION CONTINUES

One of the joys of Simmons’ officiating career is running up and down the court with his youngest son, Ron. “He’s tagged along with me and sports forever,” Simmons said of his 33-year-old son. “He saw all the yelling at Dad and still wanted to be involved. Ron’s developed into one of our top officials.”

During his 41-year career, Simmons has officiated in games featuring some of California’s and the country’s finest athletes. So many great ones, difficult-to-name names, he said. But when pressed he says that Cheryl Miller (high school, college and Olympic basketball star from Riverside, Calif.) is the best female athlete. But her brother Reggie Miller (NBA, Indiana Pacers) didn’t rate nearly as high.

“I didn’t think he would make it very big,” he said of the NBA Hall of Famer. He says Ronnie Lott ranks with the greatest he’s ever been on the field with.

He puts aside thoughts of rubbing elbows with great stars. Instead, he says, “the best part is being in a game where the kids play hard, compete, are disciplined, and the coaches are competing,” he said. “That’s when it’s fun.”

The worst part of the profession?

“A lousy game, complaining. It happens more and more,” Simmons said, “with walk-on non-credentialed coaches with zero experience and travel ball coaches.”

LISTEN UP POTENTIAL REFS
His advice for those contemplating a career in which wins and losses, and the resulting love or hate of an official, sometimes ride tenuously on the shrill sound of a whistle or the quick thrust of hand or arm signal?

“The first thing is appearance,” he said. “Look professional and hustle your butt off. If you’re hustling and into the game, doing your job, it takes the wind out of a coach to argue. Work hard to earn respect.”

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