By David Elwell
For the Decatur Daily

Basketball officials work on the premise of going unnoticed. If when the game ends, they can head to their locker room without any negative feedback from the crowd, they feel like they have done their job. Sometimes the spotlight has to shine on a basketball official, especially one like Decatur's Ralph Sharp. That's why he's being inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.

Sharp was one of the top officials in North Alabama from 1955-1989. That was during what many consider the golden age of high school basketball in Morgan County with 15 different teams winning state championships. "I have such fond memories of so many great coaches, players and teams," Sharp, who is 83, said when reflecting on his officiating career. "I loved every minute of it.

"Unless you have officiated basketball, you don't know how hard a job it can be. You have to make split second decisions on what you see. You can't call something if you don't see it. What you see from the bleachers may not be what the official sees on the floor."

Long-time basketball Coach Earl Morris said having Sharp officiate your games was special. "You knew with Ralph Sharp that the game would not get out of hand," Morris said. "He was always in control of the game. Sometimes that's not easy to do. That's all you can ask of an official. Keep the game under control and let the kids play. "Not many people pay money to come see an official work. They want to see the players play. That's the way it's supposed to be."

Sharp still follows basketball. He's glad that three officials work each game instead of two like when he officiated." It's gotten so physical and so fast, that you really need three officials to keep it under control," Sharp said.

It seems appropriate that Sharp is one of the newest members of the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame. His life has been directed through his many friendships with Hall of Fame members. It started when he was a youth spending time at Delano Park with people like Bob Freeman, a member of the first Hall of Fame class in 1989 who played football at Auburn and in the National Football League. "He was an incredible athlete and a great friend," Sharp said. Sharp and Freeman were starters on the 1946-47 Decatur Junior High team that won the county championship. Roy Freeman, Bobby's brother and a 1996 Hall of Fame inductee, was a starter. So was Marvin Golden, a 2010 inductee.

Before Sharp entered high school, his mother died. His father worked for the L&N Railroad and was away from home a lot. Sharp moved to Austinville to live with a sister. He continued his basketball career at Austinville and became a teammate and friend with Jack Allen, a 1992 inductee.

After serving two years in the Korean War, Sharp returned home. Joe Jones, his coach at Austinville and a 1989 inductee, helped him get a basketball scholarship to Saint Bernard. The playing career ended when he married Bette, his wife of 59 years, and began a career at Worthington.

"Jack Allen talked me into officiating," Sharp recalled. "He was doing it and having a lot of fun. So I thought I would try it. We made $7.50 an hour. I would work at least two nights a week. Sometimes when it got real busy I could work five nights." Bette would keep his black and white striped officials shirt clean. Leanne, his daughter, would make 25 cents packing his black bag. "I would go just about anywhere to work a game," Sharp said. "Some of the gyms were so small that you had to be careful going down the court. If you weren't looking, you might back into a stage."

Sharp worked the big stage when he was selected 10 times to work the state tournament. Most of those state tournament appearances were at the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium. At the end of his career he officiated in the 15,000-seat Memorial Coliseum.

When asked to name the best player he ever saw play in a game he officiated, Sharp is quick with the name of Gary Blagburn, who starred on Austinville's 1957 state championship team and later played at Alabama. Blagburn joined the Hall of Fame in 2005.
"He was really good and a lot of fun to watch," Sharpe said.

Besides Jones and Morris, a '91 inductee, Sharp mentions other coaches like Bob Harpe (2001), Wayne Bowling (2001), Herman Myers (1994) and Mike Smith (2009) who he calls friends. "There were a lot of great coaches," Sharp said. "I never had any problem as long as they knew who was in charge. Some coaches might get a little excited during the game, but that never bothered me."

After Sharp retired from officiating, he became a bus driver for Decatur City Schools. He would often transport teams for Decatur and Austin."I was taking the Decatur girls basketball team to Brewer," Sharp said. "I looked over at Mike Smith and told him 'I bet you never thought you would ever let your team ride on a bus that I was driving."

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