Jim Enright

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James Enright

Biographical Information[edit]

Jim Enright was a high shool, college and professional basketball referee (1930-1966), sportswriter (1930-1974), PA announcer (1974-1981) and author.

In fact, Enright never intended to officiate basketball. He was a sportswriter. But in 1930, at age 19, he was in St. Joseph, Michigan, covering a game between two Lutheran prep school teams for nearby Benton Harbor’s “News Palladium.” A snow storm raged outside, and trapped one of the game’s officials at home. Enright – just a few years senior of the contestants – was asked to step in.

He was a natural. Enright enjoyed the game so much, that he turned his one-time substitution into a full-fledged occupation. He began officiating high school games in southwestern Michigan, while retaining his job as a journalist with the News Palladium.

As his dual careers took off, Enright moved to Chicago in 1937. Over the next few years, he would witness basketball's rise from inside and out. As a writer for the Evening American (which later became Chicago Today) he often covered the sport, chronicling its progress.

By 1940, Enright had moved to officiating college games, and was regularly working in the Big Ten, Big Eight and the Missouri Valley Conference. His solid calls and general presence on the court earned him respect and popularity with fans, players and coaches alike. UCLA’s legendary coach, John Wooden, said of Enright, “Jim is such a right-down-the-middle-of-the-road official, I’d always like to have him officiating any road game for me.”

These attributes led Enright to be chosen as a referee for the professional circuit, in which he worked one season each for the NBL and its successor, the NBA. In 1948 he got a shot at sporting’s pinnacle: the Olympics. Four years later he reprised his role and worked the 1952 games in Helsinki.

Enright officiated prestigious post-season collegiate games as well, including the 1952 and 1953 NCAA regional tournaments and the 1954 Final Four. He was so sought after on the college circuit that once, when it looked like a triple tie was possible in the Big Eight, he was called away from reporting on the Chicago Cubs spring training camp in Arizona to referee a season-ending game in Columbia, MO, between Kansas and Missouri.

Enright retired from officiating in 1964, continuing to work for the Evening American until 1974, covering both basketball and baseball. He wrote for Baseball Digest, The Sporting News and the NCAA and Dell Publications, and served as editor of the “Official Read-Easy Basketball Rules.” He became the National President of the United States Basketball Writers Association from 1967 to 1968.

In 1977, Enright was commissioned by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) to pen its official history. It is there he introduced ‘March Madness’ into popular vocabulary. The term was originally coined in a poem by former IHSA assistant manager Henry Porter, referring to the excitement of the Illinois high school basketball state finals.

Enright’s book, “March Madness, The Story of High School Basketball in Illinois,” made the term so nationally recognizable that it was eventually affixed to the popular NCAA tournament.

The next year, Enright was inducted as a referee into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He had already received a number of accolades, having been named “Referee of the Year” by the Knute Rockne Club of America, and received the Old Timers Official Association Award for loyal service and dedication to basketball officiating. He died just a few years later in December of 1981, after a rich life spent advancing the game that as Henry Porter reminds us, was for corn-fed Midwestern kids in times of poverty and war, just as crucial to their lives as anyone else’s lucky Babe Ruth cards and the greatest of sandlot dreams. [1]

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