For the better part of 33 years, Gerry Pollard sometimes has been a persona non grata in basketball arenas.
How else to describe a person who gets yelled at by fans and coaches, plus draws eye stares from players? All for the thankless job of whistling players for fouls while running up and down a hardwood court for 40 minutes a night.
And to think he started on this basketball officiating journey working, well, pro bono.
“When I came home after college (after officiating town team ball games while at Southeast Missouri State), I was able to move into ninth grade, JV and some varsity,” Pollard said. “In my first year, I would go with my brother and his partner, and I would work the JV game, and they would each spilt a half with me and then I observed as they worked the varsity game. By the way, I did this for free.”
Still, he has earned the respect of many in a terrific officiating career. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Pollard with the Class of 2020.
Twenty-seven seasons have been in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, including big-name conferences: the Big 12, Southeastern, Pac-12, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Conference USA, American Athletic and the West Coast.
Pollard has work 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. In 2018 and 2019, he worked the Big 12 Tournament finals, Missouri Valley Tournament both years, handled the NCAA Tournament Regional Final-Elite 8 in Atlanta (2018) and the 2019 Regional semifinal Sweet 16 in Kansas City. Overall, Pollard has worked 2,000-plus NCAA Division I games.
Additionally, Pollard is the Coordinator of Officials for the NCAA Division II’s Great Lakes Valley Conference, NAIA’s American Midwest Conference, NCAA Division III’s St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Region 16 Missouri Juco and, in Illinois, the Great Rivers Athletic Juco Conference. His staff consists of more than 240 officials for 58 schools in six states.
All this after he spent his childhood in Troy, Missouri, where high school basketball coach Bob Wilhoit (MSHOF 1993) suggested officiating.
“Growing up in Troy, a huge basketball town,” Pollard said, “I knew I wanted to do something with basketball. Officiating filled that void.”
Pollard worked for the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department (20 years) and then three years with the St. Charles Police Department, retiring with the Rank of Captain in 2007.
“My training as a police officer and a SWAT officer really helps with my mental make-up, my mental toughness and how I prepare,” Pollard said. “I have a steel trap, and that really helps me when the game is tight and we have crucial plays at the end of a close game.”
He began with the Valley in 1993. A big break came in 1996, the start of the Big 12 Conference. He already was working for the conference’s coordinator, who also handled the C-USA, a league he had worked.
Eventually, he was officiating with the game’s biggest names working from team benches. Among them was Bobby Knight.
“He demanded perfection in such a way that you better bring you’re A game,” Pollard said. “He was unpredictable and very imposing, so he made me better in the games I had him. And we had some run ins too, for sure.”
Pollard’s longevity is due to the creation of a network of referees through his officiating camps. Secondly, he drills down on the complicated college rule book, even going so far as to turn to three books – Rules, Case and Mechanics.
That work ethic has led to memorable games. The 2018 Elite Eight game in Atlanta featured Loyola of Chicago, an NCAA Tournament Cinderella. He also worked the last game between Missouri and Kansas in 2012, when both were ranked in the top 5.
Pollard thanks so many for his success: his brother, Terry, as well as Jim Ross, Curt Panhorst, Joe Hogan, Russ Roeber, Jim “Boomer” Bain, Dale Kelly and current bosses Curtis Show, Eddie Jackson, Mark Whitehead, Bobby Dibler, Jim Naumovich and Doug Elgin (MSHOF 2018).
Fortunately, Pollard also has long had the total support of his wife, Erin, and their daughter Chaney. His mom, Evlyn, who passed away in 2003, was supportive, too. On the night of her wake, Pollard received a package notifying him he was going to work his first NCAA Tournament.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who made this possible or had something to do with it,” Pollard said. “I am very lucky and truly blessed.”