Whitehall man recognized for his hall-of-fame officiating career
That — above all else — is the key to refereeing, said Bill Sinning.
During a lengthy basketball officiating career that spanned three decades, Sinning — a Baldwin native and current Whitehall resident — displayed such consistency that he was regarded widely as one of the top referees in Western Pennsylvania.
These days, he looks for that same consistency in other officials in all sports as the WPIAL’s evaluator of officials.
Sinning will be honored formally for that career when he is inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame in the “contest officials” category.
The WPIAL Hall of Fame 2016 induction ceremony will be held Friday at the Greentree Doubletree Hotel.
“I’m very proud and somewhat taken aback,” Sinning said. “I like to fly under the radar, and this doesn’t do that.”
Sinning grew up in Baldwin, graduating from the high school in 1966. A sports lover, he tried out for the Highlanders’ basketball team, and was cut.
He continued to play intramural basketball and, after graduating from Duquesne University, still had an interest in athletics.
Sinning looked for other ways to stay involved in sports. That’s when he decided to giver refereeing a try.
“It was something to keep me active, and earn a dollar or two for beer money,” he said.
Sinning became a basketball referee in 1972, officiating countless CYO, grade school and recreation league games for several years. Seven years after starting out as a ref, he finally officiated his first varsity high school game.
“It was different back then,” Sinning said. “You very much had to work your way up. That’s how I learned to officiate, (in) those grade school and CYO games. I would do a couple hundred a year. Now, guys pass the test and want to do a varsity game right away.”
He went on to referee thousands of varsity games, including eight WPIAL boys’ championship games, seven of them Quad-A contests. He also officiated five City League boys’ title games, one PIAA boys’ final and three WPIAL girls’ championship games.
“There’s Bill on the court, and Bill off the court,” said legendary basketball coach John Sarandrea, who coached New Castle to four WPIAL titles from 1992 to 2007. “On the court, he was very confident, very dominant, very sure of himself as an official. He was right on top of things.
“When I showed up for a game and I saw Bill’s name as the official, I was always happy because I knew what I was going to be getting: a fair, high-quality officiating job. There’s no question that he’s a hall-of-famer when it comes to officiating.”
Given the sometimes contentious relationships between coaches and officials, that is some high praise.
“Off the floor, he’s a gentleman’s gentleman. He’s a terrific family guy,” Sarandrea said. “He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s the kind of guy you like to be around.”
Each step of the way in his officiating career, Sinning focused on being consistent.
“The biggest key is consistency. And that’s not only being consistent in the first quarter of the game to the end of a game, it’s being consistent from game to game, and season to season,” he said.
Sinning recalled a story that illustrated the importance of officiating consistency.
During a Peabody-Mt. Lebanon game many years ago, the Mt. Lebanon players were shooting pregame layups when they saw Sinning arrive.
“I overhead the one kid say, ‘No BS tonight, look who’s here,’” Sinning recalled. “That’s important because it means they know exactly what to expect from you, and this was November. These kids hadn’t seen me since February of the previous year.
“When you get in trouble is when you’re different on a given night. When there’s something at work, or something at home, or your kids are sick and that makes you a different person on the court, that’s when you have a problem.”
Sinning retired from basketball officiating in 2002. He said he knew it was time when, after being excited to be assigned to a WPIAL playoff game, he did not want to actually go when game day rolled around.
“The game had changed twice during my time as an official,” he said. “The first time, I changed with it. Then it changed again, and I wasn’t ready to change with it.”
While he’s no longer an active basketball referee, Sinning has since become certified as a soccer official, and dabbles in that sport occasionally.
Additionally, for the past 10 years, he has been the PIAA District 7 male officials representative. In this elected role, he is responsible for assigning and evaluating officials in all boys’ sports during the WPIAL playoffs.
It’s in this role that Thomas Jefferson athletic director Bill Cherpak got to know Sinning well.
“Bill is always somebody who is fair and honest,” Cherpak said. “He has great integrity and always tries to do the right thing. Any time you have an issue with an umpire or an official, Bill always listens and always gives you feedback.”
Outside of his WPIAL role, Sinning works in business development with Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Karen, an English teacher, live in Whitehall and have two grown sons.
Steve is English teacher at Baldwin, where he is head coach of the boys’ golf team and a volunteer assistant in the boys’ basketball program.
Craig works in information technology with Allegheny Intermediate Unit.
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.