North Big Horn County sports fans who have seen Joe White officiate games for decades in the region may not realize that he was an outstanding athlete himself in his younger days.
White will be honored for his athletic prowess when he is inducted in the Rocky Mountain College Clara Klindt Athletic Hall of Fame in September. The class of 2016 was announced June 27 by RMC Director of Athletics Bruce Parker.
The third of six sons of Ivan and Dorothy White, Joe White grew up on farms near Pavillion, Shoshoni and Burlington, attending Pavillion Elementary School for first and second grade, then grades three through eight in Shoshoni and high school in Burlington, graduating in 1967.
Ivan White worked the family’s small farms in the Midvale area near Ocean Lake and in Missouri Valley just off U.S. 26 west of Boysen Reservoir while also working in the Beaver Creek Oil Field.
The family then moved to Big Horn County, ranching south of Burlington on the Greybull River and running an 800-acre hay and cow operation. White excelled in sports at Burlington High School, earning 12 athletic letters in football, basketball and track and named to the Wyoming All-State basketball team following his senior season, during which he averaged 20.2 points per game.
He was also runner-up in the mile at the state track meet and held the BHS school record for 25 years.
White was recruited to run track at the University of Utah and basketball at Northwest Community College, but he was recruited to play multiple sports at Rocky Mountain College, including football, though that wasn’t his favorite sport.
“I wanted to play basketball and run track, and I wanted to be part of the new cross country program,” he said.
Five sport athlete
White chose RMC and competed in five college sports before his graduation in 1971. He ran track and cross country for four years, played basketball for two years and played baseball for one year. He even played in one football game when the team was short of defensive backs.
In the fall, he ran cross country and served as manager for the football team, and he qualified to run in the national NAIA cross country meet in his senior year. But Rocky Mountain didn’t have the funds to send him to the meet in Missouri.
White had finished second at the Frontier Conference meet, but when Rocky couldn’t send him, the runner who finished third behind him went in his place and placed seventh at the national meet. White was distraught, but RMC football coach Francis Rose said he was short on defensive backs for the final game of the season against Carroll College and asked White to play.
He practiced and played the final three minutes at safety, but on the final play of the game he hyper-extended his knee, suffering torn ligaments. But all things worked for the best, he said.
“That injury probably saved my life,” he noted, “because I didn’t qualify medically to go to Vietnam.”
White rehabbed the knee and was only about 70 percent for his senior season of basketball, so he didn’t play, serving as the statistician instead. But he was at full strength by the spring track season and qualified for the national NAIA meet in Billings at the MetraPark. He had run the 800, mile, two mile and mile relay during his college career, but he ended up qualifying for Nationals in the three-mile run and ran a time of 14:58 on June 10, 1971, in Billings to place 15th out of 25 runners.
White lettered in both baseball as a reserve center fielder and in track his junior year during the same spring, and when he played in the single football game as a senior he became a rare five-sport athlete. He was all-conference in cross country and track for four years. He lettered in cross country and track four years, basketball two years and baseball one year.
White graduated from RMC in 1971 with a bachelor of art degree in physical education with a minor in history.
Coaching and reffing
White taught at the Volborg, Mont., country school for one year.
“We had seven kids and eight grades,” White said. “I was the janitor, superintendent, you name it. I also helped my dad at his ranch on the Tongue River.”
White coached and taught for two more years, one school year each in Hysham and Gardiner, Mont., serving as head basketball and track coach at both schools, head cross country coach in Gardiner and as an assistant football coach at both locations.
In 1974 the oil fields came calling. White worked for Amoco in Midwest, Wyo., for three years, then for Amoco out of Powell for three more years. He worked for a year at American Colloid east of Lovell, meeting and marrying Kathy Winterholler, then ran a shale oil operation in Shell Canyon for a year and worked for Georgia Pacific for six months.
He was then hired by Marathon Oil, working in Oregon Basin and then the Frannie Field, Byron Field and eventually Garland Field. He spent 28 years with Marathon, retiring in 2011.
Throughout the years White has officiated multiple sports, spending 42 years as a basketball referee, 38 years as a football official and 37 years as a track starter, as well as 35 years as a cross country official. He was the Wyoming State Officials Association representative in the pole vault at the state track meet for 20 years and has worked as meet director for a variety of local track meets for 30 years. He served as a volunteer distance running coach for Lovell High School for nine years and even umpired Little League baseball in both Cowley and Lovell. He was also successful in the Big Sky Games for many years as a runner.
Joe and Kathy White have two children: Jeff of Provo, Utah, and Lauren Shumway of Lovell. He will be inducted into the RMC Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday, Sept. 9, during an induction dinner and ceremony. White and other 2016 inductees will also be introduced at halftime of the Rocky-Carroll College football game the next day.
By David Peck