Zuber remembered for his integrity, fairness

Staff Writer

 Walt Zuber Walt Zuber They were known as Big Walt and Little Walt. For close to 40 years, basketball coaches would be at ease when they saw Walt Mischler and Walt Zuber walk onto the court to officiate a game.

“We refereed games from Cape May to Jersey City to High Point,” Mischler said.

Mischler, who stands 6 feet 5 inches tall, was Big Walt, and Zuber, of Freehold, who died on Dec. 9, was Little Walt.

If you ask Mischler, the real giant of the duo was Zuber.

“He was the No. 1 official in New Jersey,” Mischler said. “I modeled myself after Walt Zuber. I had so much respect for the man. When I started refereeing in 1964, there were four people I wanted to emulate and learn from, and Walt was one of them. I asked Walt to critique me. He did a good job. Four years later, I was refereeing in front of 16,000 people in Atlantic City in a state final.”

In time, Mischler began teaming up with Zuber, and the rest is history. They became two of the most respected basketball referees in New Jersey. As a team, they were second to none.

“We were very well respected,” said Mischler, who was an NAIA basketball All- American at Monmouth College (now Monmouth University), where he graduated in 1962, and the former athletic director at Neptune High School.

Why were Zuber, a Villanova University graduate who played football for the Wildcats, and Mischler such a good officiating team? “We loved the sport. It wasn’t a second job to us,” Mischler said. “We took pride in what we did.”

They also had chemistry, which would eventually make them a legendary officiating duo.

“The big thing [in officiating] is judgment,” Mischler said. “You have to look at the situation and decide what really happened. We had that. We also knew how to cover the whole court.”

They also knew who they were officiating for, and it was not the coaches or the fans.

“We were out there for the kids,” Mischler said. “We wanted to be fair to both teams.”

Fair to Zuber and Mischler was not an overzealous whistle.

“We wanted to prevent fouls, not cure them,” Mischler said.

A good referee will see something like a player having his forearm on the back of a player in the box and tell him to keep his hands off the offensive player. If the player does not heed the advice, the next time he does it, the whistle blows.

At times, of course, it could be lonely out there.

“Basically, we were two guys in blackand white” out there by themselves, Mischler said, and they had to take an “us against the world” attitude. When Zuber died on Dec. 9 at his home in Freehold, Mischler lost more than a partner in officiating.

“He was a beautiful person, a classy individual,” Mischler said. “This world would be a much better place to live in if all of us could be influenced by and be a friend of a man like him.”

While Zuber was in a long battle with pancreatic cancer, Mischler would bring referees and coaches Zuber knew to his Freehold home to shoot the breeze. It helped brighten his day. Mischler said it was the least he could do for his friend.

The Freehold Regional High

School District (FRHSD) lost one of its pillars with the passing of

Zuber. He was a teacher, a principal and an administrator (assistant supervisor of personnel).

Former Manalapan High School and Howell High School basketball coach and teacher Jim Jannarone believes the FRHSD enjoys a fine reputation because of Zuber.

“His career in the district spanned its whole time,” Jannarone said. “He was the rock, the foundation, as far as I’m concerned. He hired most of the teachers through his personnel office. Everyone knew him for his integrity, discipline and fairness.”

Because of his connection to the FRHSD, Zuber would not referee a game involving a district team. Jannarone, who coached the boys teams at Howell and Manalapan, saw Zuber in action when he was scouting future opponents.

“The officials respected him … He knew the rules, was in position all the time and called it as he saw it. He was a great official,” Jannarone said.

Jannarone agreed with Mischler that Zuber was not officiating just to pick up a second check.

“It was a commitment for Walt,” he said.

Former Manalapan High School Athletic Director Rich Kane knew Zuber as a teacher, an administrator and a teammate.

“Walt was my high school history teacher [at Freehold High School],” Kane said.

When Kane returned to the FRHSD after college and became a teacher — and later the athletic director at Manalapan and Colts Neck High School — he dealt with Zuber on a professional level.

“He could be very tough, but he was fair and loyal,” Kane said. “He explained what he disliked and what needed to change.

“Walt cared about people. He worked hard to make you better. It was important for him that you did well, whether you were an AD, a coach, a teacher or a student. He wanted you to succeed. He was a tremendous role model.”

Zuber was also Kane’s teammate on a softball team. Zuber played the outfield, where one player often has to call off another player while fielding a fly ball or a pop-up.

Kane said players would shout out each other’s first name if they had to field a fly ball. When a fly ball was near Zuber, the other players would call out “Mr. Zuber.” Such was the respect that everyone had for him.