The 2007 high school basketball season proved to be a rewarding one for veteran Columbia Gorge official Dave VanLaar.
In March, VanLaar served as the lead official for the state Class 1A boys championship game in Yakima--an honor that came from being the highest-rated official at the tournament.
But VanLaar had that reward trumped on July 13 when fellow Columbia Gorge official Jim Anderson notified him that he'd been named Washington's boys basketball official of the year.
"I knew I had been nominated, but it absolutely took me by surprise," VanLaar said Monday, referring to the news Anderson relayed in a cell phone call that VanLaar took while driving home from a girls basketball camp in Seattle.
He added: "There isn't any way to top it. I guess I'm going to have to hang up my whistle now."
VanLaar, who's been calling prep basketball games for 15 years, is the second Columbia Gorge Association official to earn official of the year distinction. (Roger Mortensen of Klickitat was named girls basketball official of the year in 2000.) He will receive his award Aug. 11 during the Washington Officials Association's annual conference in Yakima.
Anderson, who nominated VanLaar for the award, said his colleague was more than deserving of the recognition.
"Dave does a great job," Anderson said. "He's knowledgeable, well-respected around the state and works harder than anyone I know to make himself a better official. In our association, he's someone everybody looks up to."
VanLaar said his body of work as an official and his reputation as someone who speaks his mind whenever officials gather to talk shop may have helped him gain an edge in the WOA's review of nominees.
"I've put in my time in camps, served as an evaluator of other officials, called two state finals and I speak up at meetings, so people know who I am," he said. "When you get right down to it, name recognition has a lot to do with it, and you have to have done a decent job at state tournaments."
The Columbia Gorge Officials Association, the smallest in the state with 22 active members, also has gained cachet in the state's circle of basketball officials.
Over the past seven seasons, VanLaar noted, Columbia Gorge officials have been assigned to five state championship games and four semifinals. In 2007, VanLaar and Anderson made association history when each was tapped for the role of lead official in a state final.
"I know it sounds like bragging, but what it all means to me is that we've got some pretty good officials here in our little association, and that when they step on the floor, they're all business," VanLaar said. "I think that's something we all pride ourselves on, doing the best job we can."
Other WOA Award Winners
Meritorious Service: Ron Logan, basketball, 2003; Mike Gilderhus, basketball, 2004; Jonas Keys, basketball, 2004; Roger Mortensen, basketball, 2005.
Hall of Fame: Mitch Hecomovich, 2004.