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Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame: Decorated ref Morningstar made all the right calls

Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame: Decorated ref Morningstar made all the right calls

John Morningstar's dive into officiating as a profession began with a simple challenge.

Fresh out of college, the 1965 Francis Scott Key graduate was working as an assistant coach for the Westminster basketball team, and on one particular night, he — "like everybody else" — was voicing his displeasure with one referee throughout a contest.

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This ref had a rebuttal for Morningstar.

"If you think you could a better job, come out and try it," the official said.

"Well, I think maybe I can," Morningstar thought.

That night put into motion an illustrious career for Morningstar, whose career went from the fields of Carroll's local high schools to traversing the eastern seaboard and into the Midwest as a college basketball referee. Morningstar will be recognized for his accomplishments Friday when he's inducted into the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame.

The honor was a surprise for Morningstar, who spent the majority of his career — he was a college basketball official from 1981-2013 — trying to stay out of the spotlight. For him, the perfect game was when he didn't get any attention.

"I never thought about it at all when I was working or anything else," Morningstar said. "I just went out and did my job and tried to do the best job I could officiating."

As a student at Towson — he played defensive back on the Tigers' first football team — Morningstar had officiated intramurals, but he never really thought it could become a career. But he worked his way up. He started as an umpire for Babe Ruth League games in 1969 before entering the high school ranks, where he did football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, and lacrosse.

"A little bit of everything," said Morningstar, who also played two seasons for the semi-pro Carroll County Chargers football team.

He was the referee for Maryland great Len Bias' final high school game at Cole Field House in 1982, when Bias scored 18 points for Northwestern in a 54-52 loss at the buzzer to High Point in the Class AA title game.

When Bias was at Maryland, Terps coach Lefty Driesell invited Morningstar down to College Park to work scrimmages. Morningstar eventually gained a foothold in college basketball in the 1980s, working both men's and women's games.

In 1986, one of Morningstar's supervisors told him he needed to make a decision: focus on only men's or women's hoops. That supervisor told Morningstar that he thought he could go "a long, long way in women's basketball," so Morningstar began exclusively working women's games for the 1986-87 season.

A year later, he worked his first Final Four.

"I hit the women's college scene at a great time," Morningstar said. "There were a lot of really good opportunities to work."

Morningstar worked with a host of Division I conferences, including the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big East, and the SEC. He worked 34 conference championship games and 65 conference tournaments.

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In 1996, he won the Naismith Award as Women's College Official of the Year.

He worked 22 NCAA tournaments, 15 regional championships and seven Final Fours. In 1994, Morningstar was on the court when Charlotte Smith caught an inbounds pass with seven-tenths of a second remaining and sank a 3-pointer to give North Carolina its first national championship with a 60-59 win over Louisiana Tech.

"You've got to challenge yourself to be better, and I don't know when that happens but I always felt pretty comfortable out on the court that I was going to do the best job I can do," Morningstar said. "Have I ever called a perfect game? Nope. Never. No one ever does. But you give it your best shot. We are human. We don't get them all right, but hopefully we get most of them right."

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