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Rick Bieterman has spent the past 40 years trying to blend into the background.
Ask him and he'll tell you that on those nights when he's doing a really, really good job, you probably won't even know he's there.
"Good officials are the ones that are not remembered," he said. "Being part of the game but not being the game is one thing you have to understand. The game is for the kids, the game is not for the referees."
The Elmhurst man and former three-sport athlete and collegiate baseball player has spent the past four decades officiating basketball, football and baseball across the region for the IHSA. He says working as an official helps him stay close to the games he loves.
He became interested in officiating at the intramural level while away at college and began working high school games when he returned to the Chicago area. He says he tries to use some of the competitiveness he had in the arena to make himself a better official.
"Over the years it has been very exciting for me," Bieterman said. "You are able to give something back to the game."
It's a mark of his talent that he's worked in state tournaments three times for each of the three sports — the maximum allowed for IHSA referees. In 1997, he and fellow referee John Dacey were the last two-man officiating crew to work a state boys basketball tournament game before the IHSA moved to its current three-person teams.
He says he's been fortunate to work with "two or three gentlemen" for most of his career. "We are teammates, just like the players are," he said.
Bieterman says many coaches smile when he shows up to work their games because they appreciate his experience and ability.
"That is part of what makes it fun," he said.
After 40 years on the job, Bieterman now is focusing solely on refereeing basketball. He gave up umpiring baseball in 1996 and retired from refereeing football games after the 2011 season.
Basketball, though, is another thing. It's his favorite sport, and he says he thinks he has another four or five good years before he hangs up his whistle.
"Basketball is the most action-packed of all three," he said.