Very few people get the opportunity to have three different impactful careers. Larry Lady, however, is one of those people.
A college basketball referee for 40 years, Lady also enjoyed a successful career in the financial sector as an executive. When he retired from his day job with Waddell & Reed in 1992, little did Lady know that his next career opportunity was waiting for him behind Door Number Three.
“I got a call from the Commissioner of the Heart of America Athletic Conference saying he had retired, and he wanted me to apply for the job as his replacement. So, I applied, interviewed and was hired. The rest was history.”
For his time as commissioner of the Heart, and his years as both a college basketball referee and a supervisor of officials, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Lady as a member of its Class of 2023.
Lady first began officiating basketball in 1959, and eventually rose to a level which allowed him to work all levels of basketball, including all NCAA levels and junior colleges in Missouri and Kansas. From 1989 to 1993, Lady officiated in the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City. Additionally, he spent 17 years as the NAIA National Supervisor of Officials, covering basketball and football.
He also officiated the national junior college basketball tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., in 1988. Lady officiated college baseball and football and from 1959 to 1985, and officiated three sports: basketball, football and baseball at the high school level.
Did all those years managing student-athletes, coaches and fans prepare him for being a conference commissioner? Not really.
“Being a referee and a commissioner are not similar,” he said. “My experience as an official and a supervisor of officials did give me a unique perspective and appreciation for officials as valuable assets within the conference.”
Lady has many moments from his time in the Heart of which to be proud, but there’s on in particular that sticks with him.
“We established a scholarship for recognizing academic excellence for the top male and female athlete each academic year,” he said. “This scholarship program continues after my retirement as Commissioner as the “Larry Lady Academic Scholarship”. That’s a great honor from the Conference.”
But more than the impact he made on the league, Lady looks back on his time a collegiate commissioner and fondly remembers the little things.
“Just sitting in the press box at football games and getting to know clock and scoreboard personnel,” he said. “Also, the school visits where I met with the President, Coaches & Faculty Athletics Reps when I was on campus to attend a game. Those are some of my favorite memories.”
The NAIA thought so highly of Lady that the organization created the Larry Lady Award in 2000, which is presented on an annual basis to recognize the long‐time contributions of NAIA officials.
“It’s an incredible honor and recognition of my efforts on behalf of the NAIA,” Lady said. “It’s very humbling. Also being inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame was a humbling honor.”
It was as a basketball official that Lady felt the biggest rewards.
“I had the privilege of officiating college basketball for 40 years, and I feel that was the most satisfying and rewarding of all my experiences in sports,” he said. “I learned self-control and discipline from successfully surviving 40 years of college officiating. Relating to coaches was the most important element of my officiating success.”
But being a college official also gave him something else: stress relief.
“It also gave me a respite from my high-pressure career in sales and being a corporate executive,” he said. “When I was on the floor officiating, I could find relief from the pressures of my career and focus entirely on things happening in the game.”
Like anyone else, Lady is quick to give credit to those who helped him reach this point.
“All of the coaches, athletic directors, Faculty Athletic Representatives and university presidents with whom I had the privilege of working and calling friends,” Lady said. “I learned so much about life from them. All were a great influence on my 21 years of growth as a person.”