The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Long-time local basketball referee Donald Bourgeois dies at age 88

If you played in high school basketball and baseball games or industrial league softball games in New Orleans in the 1960s and 1970s, it’s likely Donald Bourgeois Sr. was a referee or umpire in your contest. And if you attended college basketball games in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana from the late 1970s to early 2000s, there was a good chance Bourgeois was one of the referees. Bourgeois, who was well-known in sports circles throughout Louisiana for his extensive officiating career, died on May 2 at the age of 88.

Bourgeois was graduated from St. Aloysius High School in 1953. Ironically, he didn’t play varsity sports in high school due to the interruption of a 15-month period in the seminary. However, Bourgeois grew up in a family of local amateur umpires, and he often accompanied his father and three uncles to CYO and recreation league games.

Bourgeois began his own officiating career in New Orleans area CYO leagues in 1957, and with the lure of higher level of competition, as well as higher pay, he joined the Louisiana High School Athletic Association in 1961. He officiated local high school baseball and basketball, as well as industrial league softball games, for twenty years.

He became recognized by his peers and coaches for his ability to call basketball games and eventually progressed to the college level of basketball, initially officiating games at junior colleges and Loyola University of New Orleans. By 1978, he had advanced to being a regular basketball official in the Southland Conference that included Texas and Louisiana schools like Lamar, Northeast Louisiana State, and McNeese State. He eventually became a member of six NCAA Division 1 conferences.

In an interview with Bourgeois in 2015, he commented on his time as a college basketball official, “You had to really be in shape to do college games. There were usually two months of physical training, in addition to attending officiating camps, to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Bourgeois was known for his fairness, knowledge of the rules, and not letting players and coaches get out of control in highly-contested games.

His abilities were further recognized when he was enlisted to officiate numerous high school and college basketball championship games, including the Louisiana High School Championships for ten years, the Southland Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, the American South Conference, an NIT regional in Gainesville, Florida, and the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City for four years.

Before calling it quits on the hardwoods, Bourgeois spent 1998-2004 as supervisor of officials for the NAIA Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, in which New Orleans-based colleges fielded several teams.

Among his most memorable officiating moments was a game in which a college coach in Mississippi wanted to fight Bourgeois at mid-court over some controversial calls, resulting in the security guards having to be summoned. Prominent LSU coach Dale Brown once came to the referees’ locker room after a game to launch a verbal attack on Bourgeois following a lop-sided loss to Arkansas State University. Bourgeois recalled telling Brown, “My officiating wasn’t the reason you lost the game—your team was terrible tonight.”

He recalled officiating college games involving Karl Malone from Louisiana Tech and Joe Dumars from McNeese State, both of whom are now in the NBA Hall of Fame. He also recollected the floppy-haired Pete Maravich playing in a freshman game he officiated at Tulane.

Sports halls of fame are usually reserved for players and coaches, the men and women who were highly accomplished in their sport. It’s not often that referees and umpires who officiate sports get recognition as hall of fame members. Bourgeois was an exception because of his outstanding career as a high school and college basketball referee. He was inducted into the St. Bernard Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

Bourgeois and his wife Marian have been residents of Arabi for over 60 years.

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