TRAVERSE CITY — Barb Beckett did not get involved in athletics to win awards.
But in two weeks the Traverse City resident will be honored with a prestigious one — the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Women in Sports Leadership Award.
Beckett will be the 26th recipient, and third from northern Michigan. Karen Leinaar, now the athletic director at Bear Lake, and Patti Tibaldi, athletic director and former basketball coach at Traverse City West, won the award in 1998 and 2011, respectively.
“I was very surprised, very humbled,” Beckett said. “A lot of the ladies on that list are my heroes.”
A 30-year MHSAA registered official — and the program director at the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA for the last 28 — Beckett will be presented the award at halftime of the Class A girls state championship March 16 at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
It was on that court that Beckett made history in 1995, becoming the first woman to officiate a boys state championship game. She was on a three-person crew that officiated the Class C final between Ishpeming and Lakeview.
“I’m excited about it (award),” she said. “You never start out thinking about these types of things. You start out because you’re doing something you love.”
That passion helped her gain acceptance into a male-dominated profession. Beckett went on to officiate in eight state final games — four in girls basketball, three in softball and one in boys basketball. In 2000, she broke another barrier, becoming the first woman to receive the Vern Norris Award for her work as an official.
Although she no longer officiates, Beckett’s still involved “big time,” she said. One of her duties through the Northern Sports Officials Association: Assigning officials for basketball, softball, baseball and now in volleyball.
“Barbara Beckett is a demonstrated leader, evidenced by her previously being awarded the Norris Award for her efforts in recruiting and training officials,” MHSAA executive director Jack Roberts said in a release. “In that regard, she’s a trailblazer for women in the officiating family, and her influence continues to be felt.”
Beckett is quick to share the credit, though.
“This shows just how good my officiating partners were,” she said. “I didn’t stand alone out there.”
Beckett became interested in officiating while playing softball in a Traverse City recreational league back in the late 1970s.
“I thought I could do better than the umpires that we had in our leagues,” she said. “They were fine. But I said this is something I know I can do and I can do it better. What I quickly found out is that it’s not as easy as it appears. It gave me a great appreciation of what they (officials) do.”
Beckett’s accomplishments are not limited to officiating. During her near three decades at the YMCA, she’s developed women’s, men’s and co-ed softball leagues that have grown to include more than 1,500 players; and a men’s recreational basketball league with more than 250 participants.
Perhaps the YMCA’s biggest success, though, has been the Pop Warner football program that’s become one of the largest in the Midwest with 2,500 players competing.
Ironically, Beckett never played sports in high school. She graduated from Mount Pleasant High School in 1971.
“That was before Title IX,” she said. “We didn’t have sports (for women).”
Beckett worked odd jobs before becoming involved in Traverse City’s recreational sports scene. That led her to officiating and a job at the YMCA, organizing the basketball program.
Her motto, she said: “How to make things right for people and make sure they get the best possible experience.”