Our family received word last week that my Uncle Cody (pictured above) will soon be inducted into the hall of fame for Montana basketball referees. I can think of nobody more deserving of the honor — as the words below will illustrate. A little over a year ago, a friend of Uncle Cody’s asked me to put together a letter recommending Cody to the hall of fame. Here’s what I wrote:
March 24, 2017
To the Ref Hall of Fame Selection Committee:
Grandma and Grandpa Kuntz raised their kids on sugarbeets and basketball in the Yellowstone Valley of Montana in the 1960s. Mom was an enthusiastic team cheerleader there at Custer High School; both her little brothers, Rick and Cody, were standout players for CHS. Though college ball proved out of their reach, the two boys went on to keep their authentic love of the game alive by, as many great players eventually do, donning the black and white of MHSA basketball officials.
For years the two reffing brothers traveled the dark, narrow roads that lead to rural Montana basketball gymnasiums, and our family took quiet satisfaction in being associated with the reputation for professionalism and experience both of them soon earned in Class C communities. Whether one or both Kuntz boys walked through the door with that familiar black garment bag in one hand and black tennis shoes in the other, there were surely no groans of displeasure like you sometimes hear from rural communities overly invested in the outcome of the night’s game… but instead, if it was the Kuntz boys, there’d be a collective sigh of relief from the gathering crowd because “at least we’ve got some refs who know what they’re doing.” My sister Sue remembers fondly her senior night game in Hysham in 1986: her two uncles, Rick and Cody, showed up to officiate.
As for Grandma and Grandpa Kuntz, they were extremely proud of their two refereeing boys, and always stayed up to watch the 10 o’clock news — just hoping to catch a glimpse of either Rick or Cody flashing by on the screen in footage from some high school or college game in some gym somewhere. Next morning, Grandma and Grandpa’d pore through the sports section of the Billings Gazette, watching for a photo of a fast break or a heartbreaking foul in which one of their boys, in signature stripes, made the call in the background. And any such photo was clipped from the paper and taped to the refrigerator.
Years passed and life took Uncle Rick to Western Montana, where he eventually stepped on the court to referee university games in Missoula and Bozeman. But Uncle Cody has always stayed close to home. For Cody, home is the farm where he and Grandpa (who died in 2000) eked out a living in the ‘80s and where he and his son, Chad, now enjoy farming the 21st Century way. And home, too, for Cody are those familiar high school hardwood floors he played on in his youth and then officiated on for 36 years after his own graduation.
One more thing: Cody’s driving style is renowned throughout the family, and he fine-tuned it as he drove a million miles over winter roads to ballgames. His philosophy is that it doesn’t matter how fast you go on a slick road, because if you’re gonna wreck you’re gonna wreck; and also that the most important thing is to stay ahead of the trucks so they never get the chance to pass you and blind you with swirling snow, thereby slowing you down. That said, if there is a hall of fame category for ref’s wives, Cody’s wife — our Aunt Susan — should definitely be included. For 36 years she patiently, or maybe I should say impatiently, waited for him to come home from basketball games. Often he was driving over bad roads, and often he and “the boys” went out to Gusick’s to hash things over after the game. Usually Uncle Cody was in trouble by the time he did make it in! Three cheers for ref’s wives for sharing their husbands with basketball.
Basketball is a heritage, a pastime, a common cause, and a hope across rural Montana. I can think of no two fellows more representative and more supportive of that tradition than my two uncles. Uncle Rick was nominated for your hall of fame a few years back, and so I write this letter mostly to recommend Uncle Cody for consideration. I would suggest they’re both deserving of inclusion. As far as Grandma and the rest of us are concerned, they’ve both been in the Kuntz hall of fame for a long time already.
Thanks for your time,
(niece to Cody and Rick)
Congratulations, Uncle Cody — we’re proud of you!
© Tami Blake