Cordova Chronicles: A game without a whistle

From left, Gretchen Carpenter, Dick Shellhorn, Jerry Bendzak and Tyson Bendzak stand together on half-court during the presentation of the Golden Whistle awards. Photo by Janalie Howard/for The Cordova Times

February 1971, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington.

“So, when I was in Washington, it was my senior year of college, so I was going to graduate that spring, so I decided, shoot man, I ought to get into officiating,” referee Jerry Bendzak of Cordova recalls. “And you had to do a year of apprenticeship; you had to work with a veteran official. So, I said OK, I’ll get into this. So, I was doing what they call B schools, doing JV’s and junior high games all year.”

“I’d travel all over my area,” he says. “So, we come to the end of the season, and the assignor says ‘Hey, we think you’re ready to move up. We’re gonna give you a game with UW frosh and Central Washington frosh.’

“‘Yah. Right on, man. OK!’

“So, it’s in the afternoon at Central, and I’m used to officiating kids like here. Like this,” Bendzak says, holding up his hand at about the 5-foot, 10-inch level.

“So, I get there, and they’re warming up, they’re shooting lay-ins. And I’m like this,” he said, looking up to the ceiling in our kitchen.

“They’re all way up there,” Bendzak says. “And that was when you could dunk during warm-ups. I’m underneath the basket. We didn’t line up on the side and watch ’em back then. I’m at one end, two-man mechanics, and the other official is down at the other end. I’m at the UW end, and just watching these guys go ‘whoomp’.

“And I’m staring up like this,” he says as he looks up again. “And my mouth starts to dry up. I start to get cotton mouth. The game is getting ready to start.

“So, the game starts off, my mouth dries up, and I’m running up and down the court. I say to myself, OK, I’ve got it. The ball goes out of bounds. I’ve got it,” he raises his arm, hand open. Silently. “Someone asks, ‘did you blow your whistle?’

“‘No, I didn’t blow my whistle.’ I pointed, ‘but the other official blew his whistle.’

“OK, so the game goes on, I could NOT blow my whistle,” he recalls. “I had a foul, but I could not blow my whistle. My mouth was so dry. So, I would make the signal, and he would blow the whistle.

“I’d go over and report and come back. The other coach was starting to get on my case. The game’s going on, I’m doing the same thing. The whistle is in my mouth, but I can’t blow it.

“We go into half-time and discuss it. He says ‘Hey you’re calling a helluva ballgame. But would you blow your whistle’?

“I said ‘I can’t. My mouth just dries up. I’ll try, but my mouth just dries up.’

“I’d heard that if you put some analgesic in your mouth, it would make your mouth water.”

Note: Analgesic is normally used for leg cramps.

“So, I struck some in the side of my mouth, so it was hot, so I’d have some saliva up there,” Bendzak says.

“So, we go out for the third quarter. Same thing. I get out there; my mouth dries up again. The coach is hot. Finally, my partner calls a tech. The coach says I want to talk to him, pointing at me. I was all the way on the other side of the gym. My partner just shook his head, and so did I. I did not blow my whistle once. Honest to God, not one time.

“So, I left there, came up here (to Cordova), and started a referee association.”

At the 1986 Cordova Referee’s Association post-season gathering, Jerry Bendzak was presented with a cake made by Sue Shellhorn encouraging him to “Wet your whistle.” Photo courtesy of Trudy Bendzak

Did he ever.

Jerry Bendzak blew his whistle so often in the ensuring 50 years that he was given a Golden Whistle Award in a special ceremony at halftime of the final game of this year’s Cordova Tipoff on Jan. 15.

Note: This story of his Game without a whistle was recorded for posterity at a Cordova Referee Association post-game gathering.

In his last game before coming to Cordova in 1971, referee Jerry Bendzak didn’t blow his whistle once. He was awarded a Golden Whistle for 50 years of tooting since then during a special ceremony at the 2022 Tipoff Tournament Jan. 15, 2022. Photo courtesy of Trudy Bendzak
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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at shorn@gci.net.