Lenny Wirtz – and a lot of ACC Basketball tradition – passes away

There must be something in the air over the last week, as 1980s ACC Basketball legends are really making me deal with my own views on mortality. A few days after we posted this entry marking the anniversary of Len Bias’ death, the news has been going around twitter that long time, well-known ACC Official, Lenny Wirtz passed away in October.

Leonard F. “Kotsy”. Beloved husband of Dolores L. Wirtz (nee Schmidt); The devoted father of Michael H. Wirtz, Dr. David L. (Robin) Wirtz, Steven J. Wirtz, Scott A. (Sherry) Wirtz and the late Debbie Wirtz; Loving grandfather of Jacqueline Wirtz and Dr. Dylan (Kristina) Wirtz; Dear great grandfather of Simon Wirtz. Residence Boca Raton, FL. Passed away October 11, 2013. Funeral Services will be held on Wednesday at 12pm at the Paul R. Young Funeral Home, 7345 Hamilton Ave., Mt. Healthy. Visitation will be prior to the funeral services at the funeral home Wednesday from 10am-12pm. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the ALS Association, 1170 Old Henderson Road, Suite 221, Columbus, Ohio, 43220 or the charity of one’s choice . Condolences may be left for the family at www.paulyoungfuneralhome.com.

Wirtz was the bane of many a Wolfpackers existence in the 1970s and 1980s. So, it didn’t take long to find this tweet when I did a quick search this afternoon.

Back when the ACC was a tight fraternity of 6 (1970s) or 7 teams (1980s) of everyone not named UNC-Chapel Hill, it wasn’t just Wolfpackers whom Wirtz managed to frustrate – all it took was two seconds of a google search today to find this thread on some Maryland message forums that included the following statements:

All of us OWG’s will never fondly remember the most Carolina centric of all ACC refs. Wonder what Gary and Lefty would have to say about him.

[snip]

I assume there is a similar thread on the UNC board only in that one he is being hailed as a protector of all that is right and just in the world.

[snip]

Younger folks can’t comprehend how pro NC he was. Or at least that’s how he seemed to my pre-message board eyes. Lenny Worst.

[snip]

Pretty much. I believe it was Wirtz on whom Gary told the story about the ACC Tournament play-in game. As Wirtz was running up the court, Gary yelled (paraphrasing), “There’s a reason we’re in the play-in game, and it’s the same reason you’re calling it.”

[snip]

hate to do this but most of the posters here have it dead wrong….both Gary and Lefty loved Lenny and saw him as anti-NC and anti-Duke. Gary loves to tell the story about coaching against Dean in NC and Lenny gave him a T at a critical time. During a break Gary asked why Dean go T’d up and Lenny told him, “he yelled at me, ‘you know you suck, Lenny. When you ref my games I’m only 82-14′.”
Lenny got totally pissed at the comment and loved handing out the T.

He is so far above and beyond the Hess, Luckey, Ayres group its not even funny.

RIP Lenny.

Just how prominent is Wirtz in ACC lore? How about the following comment that we just tweeted earlier this month when a joke was being made about officials intertwined with some 80s wrestling references?

Because the internet age had not totally dawned, many forget that Wirtz’s retirement from officiating was stained when some conflicts of interest rose to light. I don’t remember the specifics of the exact situation, but I do recall an ACC Sports Journal some years later discussing controversy as it had come to light that a long term representative of Wirtz’s (maybe his agent?) was a long time donor to UNC’s Rams Club. Cynics, skeptics and many hardcore fans found that to be more than a just a little ironic.

This article was written at the time of Wirtz’s retirement.

So it goes with officials and referees, and this is the way it goes for college basketball official Lenny Wirtz, who was running up and down courts with a whistle when Dean Smith got out of college in the 1950s.

Word of Wirtz’s retirement leaked out Tuesday, a few days after he called Fred Barakat, associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the league’s supervisor of officials.

If you’ve ever watched the NCAA Tournament, odds are you’ve seen Wirtz, who is 60ish, short and has reddish/blond hair. (Through the years he has steadfastly refused to divulge his age, and he didn’t this week.)

This would have been Wirtz’s 41st season with a whistle, but the man decided there would never be a better time for retirement. So he cut his ties.

Wirtz worked six Final Fours and also one of the most famous championship games of all, the 1979 Michigan State-Indiana State game that featured Larry Bird and Earvin ”Magic” Johnson.

Although it was another basketball official, showman Dick Paparo, who scored a coup by giving technical fouls to North Carolina’s Smith and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the same game, Wirtz was known in every arena in the South.

When he showed up at Duke, the Blue Devils’ student body, dubbed the ”Cameron Crazies,” would shout: ”Oh, no, not Lenny!”

In the end, though, you knew Lenny was fair. That’s because while the rest of the world thought Wirtz was the best friend North Carolina ever had – despite the fact Wirtz lives in Ohio – the Tar Heels never wanted to see him walk through their gym door.

For an official, that’s about as impartial as it gets.

Hell, as it relates to ACC Basketball I am so old that I still think of Joe Forte as the one who wore black and white zebra stripes and has nothing to do with playing shooting guard in Chapel Hill. Obviously Brett Friedlander and I can agree on something:

RIP, Lenny.

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ACC College Basketball

26 Responses to Lenny Wirtz – and a lot of ACC Basketball tradition – passes away

  1. Alpha Wolf 11/25/2013 at 7:15 PM #

    RIP Lennie.

    I hope Jimmy V is yelling at you in the afterlife.

  2. LRM 11/25/2013 at 7:16 PM #

    Just the fact that an official — any official — has such notoriety (like Hess or Luckie nowadays) should be concerning for any league office promoting a front of impartiality.

  3. Alpha Wolf 11/25/2013 at 7:24 PM #

    THE ACC front office has John Clougherty making excuses for his officials. He used to be one of ‘em.

  4. bill.onthebeach 11/25/2013 at 7:29 PM #

    Lenny Wirtz is another reminder that the world we grew up in is not the world we live in today….

    He was definitely part of the “show”… back in the day.
    And he had more than a few stories to tell in that high scratchy voice of his.

    Nevertheless, there was no love for Lenny in Reynolds.
    Hank Nichols was “our man”…. just ask Mr. Dog.

  5. Alpha Wolf 11/25/2013 at 8:18 PM #

    Lenny Wirtz is another reminder that the world we grew up in is not the world we live in today….

    He was definitely part of the “show”… back in the day.

    The modern equivalent of Lennie today is “TV Teddy” Valentine. Teddy thinks people buy tickets to see him make his monstrously demonstrative calls.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1207148/index.htm

  6. archdalepack 11/25/2013 at 10:22 PM #

    My worst Lenny call was in Reynolds, 81 or 82 against UVA. Our player had ball near score table. UVA player put arms around state player, like a bear hug. Got hands on ball, road his back to,do it. Lenny called jump ball. Roof elevated off of Reynolds!

  7. bill.onthebeach 11/25/2013 at 10:51 PM #

    ^^Yeah but… the big difference was that Lenny, et al, worked the stage/court amid theatrical geniuses/wiseguys named Drisell, Sloan, Bubas, Smith, Knight, Tarkanian, McGuire(both of them), Thompson just to mention a few. (Dickie V omitted on purpose as he is only a genius in his own mind ) and played their supporting parts to perfection ( which is not meant to be the same as making their calls in a balanced, fair and mostly accurate manner ).

    Valentine and Hess work “solo” most nights in the shrinking list of gyms into which they can still get booked.

    Imagine this… Wirtz calling a game that included HWSNBN on the bench….

  8. tookandsaid 11/25/2013 at 10:56 PM #

    No dis-respect to Lenny – and may he RIP

    But, does anyone know the number of remaining seats we have on the 2014 football roster

    It’s easy to keep up with for basketball…

    Football on the other hand???

    We have some stellar recruits this far – but we also have several 4 star recruits – still in the guessing game for us.

    I was wondering how many more scholarships are available??

    Thanks

  9. Alpha Wolf 11/25/2013 at 10:57 PM #

    True enough, Bill. You’re right about that.

    I wonder how Lenny would have handled K the way he acts now?

  10. bill.onthebeach 11/25/2013 at 11:08 PM #

    Lenny and Coach Rat would have ‘cussed and dis-‘cussed in languages unintelligible to most of all of us thereby causing some consternation in the ESPN trailers while ultimately increasing advertising revenues.

    Imagine DumbassDicky trying to polish those apples…

    ————

    Wirtz would have….

    1. T’d up HWSNBN two or three times a season for being boring.
    2. T’d up Coach Rat for chest patting the opposing players after the game.
    3. T’d up DumbassDicky for being loud AND stupid.
    4. T’d up Valentine or Hess… if either one tried to work on his crew.

    and more for just a couple of hundred dollars a night.

  11. tjfoose1 11/26/2013 at 12:15 AM #

    “I hope Jimmy V is yelling at you in the afterlife.”

    So you think Lenny had a soul?

  12. gumby 11/26/2013 at 12:52 AM #

    Sorry to hear of his passing but boy did I hate that guy when he reffed! “Lenny Worst” is what we called him, and I guess he did start a tradition, albeit of rotten officiating…

  13. graywolf 11/26/2013 at 7:59 AM #

    I almost got thrown out of Reynolds because of Lenny. Needless to say I was not happy with his officiating and was told by officials that I would be removed if I continued my verbiage regarding his abilities.

  14. wufpup76 11/26/2013 at 8:52 AM #

    RIP

    Lenny was something …

  15. tractor57 11/26/2013 at 8:59 AM #

    I will not speak ill of the dead but …

  16. bill.onthebeach 11/26/2013 at 9:20 AM #

    Anyone wish to speculate on what might have happened if Coach Rat had “chest-patted” any one of the following…

    1. Len Elmore…
    2. Tom Riker…
    3. John Roche…
    4. Billy Packer…
    5. Doug Moe
    6. and our own “Dirty Dan” Wells…

    Feel free to add to the list…

    Less there’s any misunderstanding…. for me… that chest patting thing evokes mental images of “the ‘blessing’ and ‘laying on of hands’ from above” which when “performed” on a basketball court can only be perceived as arrogance at the highest levels.

  17. Adventuroo 11/26/2013 at 10:15 AM #

    I remember Wirtz….a real character.

    I remember Belo….and some of the “documented” tales of his “impartiality” are really funny….ask the Norm Sloan folks about the first FL game (with Norm coaching) that Lou officiated after Norm recommended him to the conference.

    When you know a ref by name or can recognize him or he has a nickname, he usually has TOO much influence….

    What are the odds of Ron Cherry being in CF on Saturday?

  18. Adventuroo 11/26/2013 at 10:44 AM #

    Off topic….but might be of interest since it is BB.

    Two BB games were interesting last night. When you are retired, you can watch what you want when you want and not worry about getting up.

    Read the ASU and I HOPE someone can get a youtube video of HWWNBSOHA…..it was FUNNY

    ASU 79 Versus (#25) Marquette 77

    From ESPN….

    Marquette fought back quickly in the second half.

    Thomas hit a pair of 3-pointers, Jamil Wilson added another and JaJuan Johnson sailed in for a breakaway dunk after a steal to get the Golden Eagles within two.

    It got a little ugly for Arizona State after that.

    Marshall was hit with a technical foul for taunting after scoring on a drive, and the fans added another by throwing a glow stick onto the floor for the second time. Arizona State coach Herb Sendek told the crowd to stop, then grabbed the microphone again after the technical foul was called, slamming it down onto the table in disgust.

    Gardner hit three free throws on the technicals, cutting Arizona State’s lead to 58-57.

    “You never like to see that,” Sendek said. “Someone could get hurt … and in a game like this, you don’t want to give away points.”

    I was channel surfing, but saw Coach storm over. I have NEVER seen such emotion……maybe it is the lack of hair or the extra 50 or so pounds…..but ASU DID beat a ranked team.

    NEXT……

    Dayton 84 versus (#11) Gonzaga 79

    The Flyers, coached by the sibling of Sean Miller, were DOWN by 16 in the first half. Gonzaga looked like they were going to eventually put in the managers. But Archie got it back to close to 10 or so (memory) at the half and then came out and went on a 7 -0 run. Eventually the Flyers were up by 9….so it was a 25 point swing. It got a little dicey at the end. Typical “NEW” officiating…..the Zag’s had 3 or 4 starters on the bench. The Flyers tried a couple of time to give them a sporting chance….on inbound plays.

    But Archie Mille (with Dad in the stands) pulled off his (announcer’s phrase) “Greatest Coaching Victory”…

    Mark Few did not look like the sideline genius that he usually does.

  19. Adventuroo 11/26/2013 at 11:04 AM #

    This should be in the game thread….but might be busy later…..

    2012 NCAA…..

    NCSU played…..San Diego State University…..WON

    NCSU played…..Georgetown……WON….on to the Sweet 16.

    2013 NCAA…..

    Florida Gulf Coast (#15) played (#2) Georgetown….WON

    FLGC played San Diego State University….WON….on to the Sweet 16.

    AZUL the EAGLE is FL GC mascot….Eddie the Eagle is NCCU’s mascot.

    SO….tonight will be interesting….

    FLGC lost it’s coach after his “run”…..but, I think that they are returning FOUR of the FIVE from last year….

    Now WHO is their coach….?

    Joe Dooley. Now WHERE have I seen him….?

    2012 NCAA

    NCSU goes to St. Louis and plays…..KANSAS…..who was an assistant coach there?

    Give that lad a cigar…..Joe Dooley.

    Now WHERE have I seen him before….

    ECU – HC – 1995-99…..

    BUT, based on my limited searches, we did NOT play ECU in those years….

    BTW, I did my research early this morning and did not see the N&O print article until this afternoon. I would plagiarize …..and definitely would not stoop to such depths, should I choose to, with a source that is as untrustworthy as the N&O is…..

  20. wilmwolf80 11/26/2013 at 11:19 AM #

    I was sitting front row on the baseline when Hess threw out Corch and Googs. Several minutes later, Karl came over for an out of bounds play, and I screamed something to the effect of “Hey Karl, I think you suck too, you going to throw me out?”. He turned and stared at me for a few seconds like he was going to say something. I was stunned that he had acknowledged me. To me, any ref that responds to something said by a fan has lost their edge, and needs to retire.

    Any official that is known by name or sight to fans is not doing their job properly. Refs should be a part of the infrastructure of the game, along with the clock operator, ball boys, floor sweepers, etc., not a part of the game action. Good calls and bad calls come with the territory, but making a spectacle out of yourself shouldn’t.

  21. bill.onthebeach 11/26/2013 at 12:42 PM #

    For the younger generation…. times have changed…

    Back in the days when the ceilings in Reynolds, Cameron, Woolen and Cole were a hazy blue-gray…

    Among coaches, refs , radio guys and the TV guys who followed them, student-athletes and seasoned fans… everybody ‘knew’ everybody on a first name basis and that was quite okay.

    Among the ‘adults’ on the court…. only those who were not yet on a first name basis were treated with less ‘respect’.

    Plus “everybody” thought it was in their job description to “make a spectacle of themselves” on a regular basis…

    The POBs approved enthusiastically as it made for a great show that equaled the quality of ball-playing exhibited night in and night out.

    This included some players who also played with their balls on occasion.

  22. TheCOWDOG 11/26/2013 at 3:14 PM #

    The Vegas Showgirls like Hess, TV and Kersey couldn’t carry Lenny’s whistle.

    To illustrate what Beachbum Bill says…
    One time we’d just dressed following a baseball game and a few of us went up the basement stairs to get courtside for the last bounce-bounce game prior to ACCT.

    When we got up there, none other than Hank Nichols sees us and strolls over just before tipoff. “How’d you guys do today,” he says.

    Most impressive that he even knew we’d played, let alone asked about it.

  23. bill.onthebeach 11/26/2013 at 5:07 PM #

    Mr. Dog… thanks… now tell us what you really think about that ‘chest-patting thing’ Coach Rat does !

  24. TheCOWDOG 11/26/2013 at 8:03 PM #

    ^ My Dad woulda’ put an end to that sh*t post haste if K were to “touch” one of his ballplayers.

  25. bill.onthebeach 11/26/2013 at 8:27 PM #

    That’s exactly what I thought you would say….

    Looks like running the steps in Reynolds did the Young Pack bballers some good…. that plus having Vandy back in the lineup (10 rebs with 11 mins to go) spreads the fouls out and takes a lot a pressure off BJ…

    Have a good one.

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