By Greg Gielczyk

LUDINGTON — After graduating from Free Soil High School (which no longer exists), Roger Chappel enrolled at West Shore Community College in Scottville and enrolled in a class in officiating.

And since then, Chappel, a three-sport prep athlete and a starter on the Pirates’ team that lost to Covert in the 1971 state finals, has been working games.

He’s spent a total of 48 years wearing the black and white striped shirt, and carrying a whistle around his neck. He’s visited a whole lot of venues throughout the state.

“Ron Mousel was the physical activities teacher then, and a basketball official too, and he started an officiating class,” Chappel said.

“I don’t remember … there were about eight of us, all former players and he knew us because he officiated (games). We took that officiating class in the fall of ’73 and that’s how I got started,” he said.

“He was a really good official. He taught us the basics and he got some junior varsity games and junior high games for us and stuff like that,” Chappel said. “Just been doing it ever since.”

At Free Soil, prep basketball was king, although Chappel also played baseball and ran track.

But, he loved basketball and officiating games kept him in touch with the sport and allowed him to interact with the coaches and the players. It was something he truly enjoyed.

Chappel, now 67, learned the mechanics of officiating from Mousel.

Photo/Leo Valdez

“The mechanics as far as your signals and he went through the rule book with us,” Chappel said. “He taught us where to stand, positioning and what you do pre-game, post-game and the scorebook.

“He went through the whole rule book, basically, in that class,” Chappel said. “Ron still officiates volleyball. He got a lot of guys started. You had to take a test to get certified and had to know a basic understanding of the rules.”

Mousel was Chappel’s officiating partner for several years. Working with someone more experienced was a huge help for a young kid just starting out.

Back then, officials weren’t promoted to work varsity games until they had done junior varsity games for several years. In essence, they had to pay their dues at the lower levels.

Nowadays, the path is much shorter.

Chappel worked at the Equalization Department in Ludington. He still lives in Ludington with his wife, Julie. He is a retired property appraiser, including the last 15 or so years as the director. He retired in 2012.

Since it was pretty much an 8-5 job, Chappel didn’t have any conflicts making the night games.

Occasionally, if it was a longer trip, he would have to leave work a bit early.

Rod Marshall has been Chappel’s regular officiating partner for the past 35 years, and he worked with David Wright for 20 years before his retirement from officiating last year.

“One reason why I still enjoy doing it, and I keep doing it, I’ve worked with the same partner (Marshall) for 35 years,” Chappel said. “He was a teacher at Mason County Central. He and I started working together, I’m not exactly sure, but it was late ’80s. We know what each other is going to do. We don’t get upset with each other if someone calls one near us.

“Plus, it’s nice to have someone to drive to the games with,” Chappel said. “It’s no fun going alone. Now, with three officials working the games, the third guy might be a guy you don’t know.”

Chappel has officiated several regional tournament games, but was usually gone in March and didn’t push to go much further in the playoffs.

“It’s a little better basketball than you typically see, and actually easier to officiate,” said Chappel. “When you have good ball handlers, and decent shooters, it’s a clean game.

“When they don’t handle the ball well, and you have balls on the floor, and don’t make shots, it’s hard. Two good teams is a fun game to do.”

Chappel, whose daughter Sarah Laird was a standout athlete at Ludington, isn’t sure how much longer he’ll officiate games.  One granddaughter, Keelyn Laird, currently plays for the Ludington Orioles girls team.

He tries not to officiate on those nights, and the game assigner has been able to accommodate his requests, allowing him the opportunity to watch the Orioles’ games. He’s seen all but three of his granddaughter’s games.

Another granddaughter will be on the freshman team next year, but since they play on the same nights, it shouldn’t present a problem for Chappel.

Chappel isn’t sure how much longer he’ll keep officiating.

“As long as I feel physically able to do it, and feel like I’m doing the, job I will continue,” Chappel said. “When I feel like I’m not going to be able to do a good job … that’ll be the time to think about retiring.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this if my wife wasn’t supportive, because I’m gone quite a bit,” he said. “She’s been real good about it. She knows I enjoy it. She likes basketball, too. She comes to some of the games and critiques me a little bit.”

While he remains in good physical condition, he plans to stick with it. Besides, his love of the game and having an active role in the game keeps him motivated.