“Like a country morning all smothered in dew,” getting dressed to call a game makes one of Elizabethton’s more recognizable figures “feel shiny and new.”
That’s no small detail when you consider Hodge is age 72 and has been calling games since 1978. On top of that, he’s driven a Johnson City Transit school bus the last 12 years.
“When I come in of the afternoon, I’m tired,” Hodge said. “But when I put that uniform on, I just get that adrenaline rush. And I get new energy and I go out there and give it my all.”
Even with two surgeries — one on each knee — he’s undergone in more recent years, Hodge continues to blow his whistle and keep a keen eye on the strike zone.
Hodge has been involved with basketball, football, baseball and softball on the high school, middle school and youth league levels. He’s basically a basketball and softball guy at this stage of his career.
“I really enjoy myself,” Hodge said. “I’m still doing it, the Lord has blessed me well — good health. Other than my knee surgeries, I’ve had good health.”
He also expressed thanks to his wife, Nancy, for supporting him in this time-consuming endeavor.
“I’m gone just about all the time, to either a ballgame or a meeting of some sort,” Hodge said.
Asked to field a few questions about his decades in the world of officiating, the 1965 Elizabethton High School graduate and former Cyclone baseball player was happy to oblige.
What sparked your interest in this type of work?
“Charlie Peters got me involved in that, in 1978. I had a carpet-cleaning service and I called him up and said, ‘Charlie, come and do some carpets with me tonight. I’ve got a couple of places I’ve got to go clean carpets.’ He said, ‘I can’t. I’m going to a TSSAA basketball meeting.’ I said, ‘What?’ And he told me. He said, ‘Go with me,’ and I said, ‘Gosh.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it.’ And I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Officials are responsible for working together and making countless judgments and calls. Additionally, you folks have interactions with coaches, players and fans. What has been your favorite aspect of the job?
“All of the above. What impresses me most is the kids I’ve called for in middle school and high school have gotten out, and now some of them are coaches. And they’ve gotten married and now their kids are playing middle school and high school. And I’ve had the opportunity to referee their games. When I do that, I just feel good that I can still keep up with those middle school and high school kids.
“I used to live in Mountain City. I lived up there for 15 years and anytime I go back, whether it’s three months or three years, I still get the same quality of respect: ‘Hey, Ron. Where have you been? We’ve been missing you.’ You know, stuff like that.”
You’ve described the late Ralph Stout, who was such a revered official, supervisor and assigning officer, as your mentor. Do you have a Ralph-related anecdote you can share with our readers?
“Ralph called me up one day and that’s when I lived down in the Central community (of Carter County). He said, ‘I need a favor,’ and it was 3 o’clock. He said, ‘I need somebody to go to Surgoinsville for a JV game at 5 o’clock.’ That was before all of them got together and consolidated into Volunteer (High School). I told him I’d go. Then, they were paying only $12.50 a game. He said, ‘I’ll take care of you.’ He did. He sent me back five more times … to the same place in the same month (laughter).”
Can you sum up the kind of relationship you’ve had with area coaches down through the years?
“I really admire them. I’ve had a lot of good times with them. What I liked about it is once they got to know me, they respected me. I respected them as coaches and they respected me as an official. We have respect for each other.”
With 40 years as an official attached to your name, how much longer do you think you’ll keep it up?
“Well, (former official/assigning officer) Joel Pierce got in 50 years. We recently had a banquet for him. Herb Greenlee put on a banquet for him and (Joel) retired from sports. Herb’s been our junior assigning officer for five years, I think. I’d like to go beyond 50, if it’s the Lord’s will. But I would like to get another 10 years in and say, ‘Well, I’ve got 50 years in.’
“I’ve had some very good times in officiating with my fellow officials and my crews for the football games, my umpires that I’ve called baseball and softball with. And basketball, I’ve had some real good times with those guys. They’re like me — they go out and give it their all.”