APEX, N.C. (AP) — Jim Burch was the first black man to officiate a basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but one of the men he taught to follow in his footsteps said Burch didn't make much out of the achievement.
"Everybody else talked about that. He just shared his story and his journey," ACC referee Jamie Luckie said in an interview on Monday. "He talked about sitting in the colored section of Reynolds Coliseum watching games, telling his friends that he was going to be on that court someday. They said he was crazy, and sure enough, he was on that court one day. But he never talked about himself being a pioneer."
Burch, who not only called college games but taught others how to officiate in a career spanning 60 years, died at his home in Apex, outside of Raleigh, on Sunday. He was 91. Luckie, an ACC referee since 1997, said it was Burch who gave him his start in refereeing.
After graduating from Fayetteville State University, where he was a two-sport athlete, Burch became an official for basketball games involving black high schools in North Carolina. In 1959, he advanced to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, a league that features historically black colleges. Ten years later, he was added to the ACC staff, although Luckie said he didn't officiate any games until the next season because he refused a request from the supervisor of officials to cut his hair and trim his sideburns.
In a 2013 interview with The Charlotte Post, Burch recalled when he and the late John Russell, who was black, walked onto the court at Wake Forest University, where he said an elderly white woman yelled out, "My God, there's two of them tonight!"
"John and I both laughed and kept on going," Burch said.
Burch was assigned to 14 NCAA tournaments and also officiated games in the Southern Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He was coordinator of officials for the South Atlantic Conference as well as for the CIAA before retiring last year.
Away from the court, Burch was a teacher and administrator for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district.
"With his background in academics and teaching, he was an unbelievable teacher of the game in terms of what he wanted us to do on the floor, how he wanted us to deal with coaches, how he wanted us to communicate, and just his delivery and style was one where he could get it across to you but he was a teacher. That never stopped," Luckie said.