BILLINGS — Shoes. Socks. A whistle. Even a lanyard for the whistle.
It seems to Cory Elkin that he’s outfitted his brother Ty with just about everything referee-related this year as Ty and his wife, Heather, resume their officiating careers. And, to Ty’s credit, he admits he can be a bit forgetful when he heads out the door to work a basketball game.
Cory feels safe, though, that he won’t need to pack any extra gear for Saturday’s Glendive at Billings Central girls basketball game.
“He should be fully equipped, and he’s got his wife with him on this one,” Cory deadpanned earlier this week. “Hopefully, they walk out that door together and she says, ‘Hey, you got everything?’”
Though the three Elkins are all veteran officials, they have yet to work the same game together. That changes Saturday at the Ralph Nelles Activities Center on the Central Catholic High School campus.
Ty and Heather returned to officiating this season after taking a break in the early 2010s. Heather started officiating in 1995, but a knee injury in 2011 sort of forced her into pseudo-retirement. Ty began his career a couple years after Heather and he, too, opted to take a break the year after she did.
But, with both their children graduated from high school and out of the house, the couple decided to get back into the game. The idea of a return germinated while at a friend’s house during a 2019 New Year’s Eve gathering of mostly referees.
“We just missed being around those people,” Heather said.
Cory began calling intramural games when he was in college, and has been officiating steady for 29 years now. His steadiness has paid off: three state tournaments and 10 postseason tournaments have offered him a spot this year. Jay Lemelin, the Montana Officials Association Region 7 director, said that’s higher than average for a referee, adding that officials are allowed to accept one state tournament and two district and/or divisional offers.
Still, despite their experience and all the games they’ve officiated, neither Cory, Heather nor Ty can recall a game where they’ve shared the same floor. Lemelin could think of instances where two family members officiated the same game, but not three.
But now the Elkins will have that chance.
“We are three somewhat different personalities, you know, in several ways,” Ty said. “And, obviously, a lot alike in other ways. Heather and I will laugh at something stupid that Cory will do and I’ll probably forget some clothes. That’s a relatively consistent theme in my world.”
All the kidding aside, all three said it will be a special moment for them. Now that they are back in the reffing world, Heather and Ty hope to stay in the game for a bit.
Cory, on the other hand, said he sees the end of the line coming for him. At 49, Cory is two years older than Ty, and he said all the court time combined with his age makes it harder for his body to recover from games. His original goal was to go for 25 years and he's passed that, hoping now to last until he's 55 years old. So he’ll cherish his time on the court with Heather and Ty, who were both Big Sky Conference officials before taking their interlude.
“It’s going to be a memory for me, for sure,” Cory said. “I mean, I have my favorite games, and being able to work a game with my sister-in-law and brother is all part of the 29 years. This one will be special. I’m glad to have them back and hopefully we’ll be able to work more games in the future.”