By Dillon Tabish, 2-05-13
||Caption: Keith Ori before the recent cross-town basketball game between Flathead and Glacier. - Courtesy photo
After more than 1,300 basketball games, one of the most experienced refs in Montana officiated his final contest last week. But not without first being celebrated by almost 3,000 fans inside Flathead High School’s gym.
“Tonight we would like to honor Keith Ori for his dedication and commitment to the game of basketball and to the hundreds of athletes and coaches he has worked with over his 36-year career,” the public announcer said.
A native of Dillon and the founder of Orthopedic Rehab in Kalispell, Ori has officiated more than 40 high school state tournaments and more than 70 district and divisional tournaments since 1977. He also spent six years working in the NCAA’s Big Sky Conference.
Since moving to Kalispell in 1986, he has served as president of the local officiating pool, recruiting and training new refs.
Ori is retiring as one of only 22 refs with 35 or more years of experience among 855 registered high school officials in the state, according to the Montana High School Association.
“He’s done a fantastic job and he’s been a great mentor for officials in the Flathead area,” said Mark Beckman, executive director of the MHSA.
“He’s able to deal with people and able to make the tough decisions and calls.”
Retirement was a tough decision. Ori still loves officiating but decided to call it a career after suffering a string of injuries in recent years.
“It’s been a really memorable time,” he said. “It can be a thankless job. But I’ve got memories that are pretty spectacular.”
Ori has been in the middle of countless classic games over the years. Reflecting back, there’s one in particular that sticks out.
The 2009 Class A state championship game in Great Falls between Columbia Falls and Dillon took place while Craig Finberg was battling pancreatic cancer. Finberg previously coached for Dillon and lived there. Finberg’s brother Cary was coaching on the Columbia Falls sideline for the family’s hometown team. Dillon edged out a victory and afterward the entire stadium erupted in a “Finny” chant. Days later Finberg passed away.
“I’ll never forget it as long as I live, nor will there ever be a game that could ever top that. Never,” Ori said.
Ori attributed his long career to the support of his wife, Susan, his son, Kellen, and daughters, Alena and Briana.
“I still enjoy it,” he said. “After (the cross-town game) I thought to myself, ‘Who would ever want to give it up?’”
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