A pair of veteran basketball referees will be returning for the 50th edition of the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament (BRIT).
The tournament kicks off Thursday and Don Stephonchev will be there with his whistle in hand for the third-place game scheduled for Saturday night.
Steponchev, 77, was an official at the very first BRIT back in 1968. The Regina-born ref began his career in 1960 at the age of 19.
“I actually used to play basketball quite a bit and I was such a complainer that one of the guys said to me: ‘if you’re going to complain so much, why don’t you learn how to referee?’ So I took him up on it,” he said.
He’s returned to the BRIT a number of times and said he’s noticed a steady improvement in the quality of play.
“They’re bigger, stronger, they jump higher, they shoot better. They’re just better athletes,” he said.
Steponchev said his 58-year career as a ref nearly came to an end last year after he broke his femur.
“I’ve come back this year and I’ve done about 28 games so far. I’m feeling OK. As long as I feel OK I’ll keep doing it.”
Steponchev’s stop at the BRIT will mark another entry in a 58-year career that’s seen him inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and allowed him to travel the globe officiating at international events.
“I was in China four times and I was in Europe, all kinds of places. It’s offered me some great opportunities.”
Steponchev will be joined in the officiating crew Saturday by another seasoned vet in 68-year-old Kelly Bowers, who also reffed the very first edition of the tournament.
—With files from Justin Blackwell