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.
RIP former ACC hoops ref Lenny Wirtz, whose calls at Reynolds Coliseum led to more than a few chants of "Lenny sucks! Lenny sucks!"
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) November 23, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
— statefansnation (@statefansnation) November 9, 2012
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:
Lenny Wirtz … Dick Paparo … Rick Hartzell … now Karl has taken up that role
— Star-News ACC (@starnewsacc) March 5, 2013