90-year-old local sports official isn’t giving up the craft anytime soon

Chicago's Very Own

CHICAGO — From basketball and wrestling, to men’s softball, Morrie Schwartz has officiated thousands of sports throughout the years. And at 90 years old, he’s proven you can stay in the game. 

For nearly 70 years the sports enthusiast has been playing or officiating school and recreational sports. 

Morrie Schwartz is one of Chicago’s Very Own.

“When I started with the Illinois High School Association I did wrestling, football, basketball, wrestling and girls softball,” he said.

At 90 years young the retired schoolteacher isn’t giving it up any time soon. Several days a week Schwartz can be found at his local Evanston Park District softball games, not as a spectator but as the game’s umpire. 

“I do Wednesday nights here. Three games: 7:45, 8:45, 9:45. I do Sunday in Lincolnwood two games, I do baseball games,” he said.

Schwartz has been an independent contractor for the Evanston Park District for 15 years, and although the job of an umpire can be a difficult one, league players say he is fair but doesn’t waiver in his calls.  

“Every once in a while someone disagrees with the call right? Because it’s a close call and half the guys are going be upset but you know Morrie takes it all in good humor he says ‘I’m doing the best I can guys,” Bob Best, a softball player, said.

Although umpires and coaches haven’t always seen eye to eye, Schwartz takes pride in keeping a level head and tempers quelled during a game.  

“If they are flagrant, and they continue to do it and you want them to stop it, you stick your hand up and you say ‘time,’” Schwartz said.

He said his formula for conflict resolution has been a success throughout the years.   

“In 70 years I threw out four, two coaches and two players out of a game in 70 years and five sports,” Schwartz said.

Those 70 years include five decades he spent as a basketball referee. 

In 2002 Schwartz was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He later snagged a photo with basketball great Michael Jordan at an elementary school game he was officiating. 

In 2010 he was inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Hall of Fame. However, through it all, Schwartz remains humble.

“It’s not gone to my head, because I just love to do it. I really do I enjoy umpiring and refereeing,” he said.

But for Schwartz, umpiring a game is more than a job, there is camaraderie with the guys.    

“Morrie is everybody’s friend because he is a great guy,” Best said.

Family members say officiating may be the key to his longevity.     

“I think number one, the sports have kept him young if you want to say it that way, it’s given him a purpose,” Schwartz’s sister, Ruth Apfelbaum, said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schwartz used the quarantine time for a hip replacement surgery he had put off. Back and feeling better than ever, he said he will continue to follow his passion of officiating.   

“I’ve played sports all my life, I’ve competed all my life, don’t let the size fool you even in basketball, and I want to stay with it and I have stayed with it,” Schwartz said.

This fall, Schwartz will move back in doors officiating men’s basketball.

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