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The queen and dean of sports officiating

WATERFORD – Betty Opersko is a walking, talking one-woman argument in favour of active living for seniors.Opersko recently surpassed the 70-year mark as an umpire and referee.Even now, with the Waterford native well into her 80s, Opersko remains on call to officiate volleyball, softball and kids basketball games. It’s a feat many in the local area have difficulty comprehending.“Wow — a 70-year career,” says Jean Montgomery of Simcoe, a long-serving official and coach in her own right. “That achievement can only be accomplished by the love of sport and pure dedication to players, coaches and officials.“Betty has a keen eye for talent and always encouraged athletes with wise advice.  Many athletes and officials have gained valuable experience through Betty’s knowledge, discernment and remarkable character.  Betty is a shining star in our community.”Many of the best referees and umpires got that way by excelling at the sports they oversee. Opersko is no different.As a child, she was recognized as a natural athlete. As a teen, she played with and against athletes much older than herself.By age 10, Opersko was a utility player for the Jarvis Jills softball team. She was certified as a volleyball referee in Grade 9 after passing her exam in Niagara Falls. Her basketball certification came soon after.“I’ve never hung up my whistle,” Opersko said last week. “My body is sports-minded. I was a catcher for over 50 years and I could hit home runs. I had an arm like the boys.“Know why I was good at umpiring? Because I was a catcher, and I know how to call balls and strikes.”Opersko admittedly comes from tough stock. The youngest of 11 children, she tells the story of the day her mother Pearl was out in the field hoeing weeds with her daughters on the family farm near Townsend Centre.Pearl put down her hoe and told the girls she had to go to the house for something. When she didn’t return right away, the girls went looking for her.They found Pearl in the house with their new sister. Pearl Opersko delivered Betty herself, cut the umbilical cord, cleaned her up, and was nursing her when the girls walked in.“She told them ‘Don’t you call Dr. Sutherland,’” Opersko said. “’I’m not giving him $100.’ That night, she went out and helped milk the cows. It was from her that I got my strength as an athlete.”As a bonus, Opersko has retained sharp eyesight – a must for any official who works in front of demanding crowds.“When I was a high school student I remember her umping fastball while I was playing,” says Dave Leatherland, head of phys-ed at Delhi District Secondary School.“She is a stalwart. Every volleyball season that comes around you know she will be there. She is very particular about enforcing the rules and she has always represented herself well. She’s very well respected and knows and understands sports.”The dean and queen of sports officiating in Ontario has received numerous accolades.These include membership in the Norfolk County Sports Hall of Recognition, the Brantford Sports Hall of Recognition, and the former Canadian sports hall of fame at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto.For good measure, Opersko was a gold medalist at the 1953 Ontario Plowing Match in Alliston.Opersko came of age when a worthy individual could be invited into the teaching profession and earn their credentials on the job.Opersko retired with a full slate of letters after her name. She enjoyed a successful career teaching physical education and business courses. Communities where she taught include Delhi, Brantford, Burford and Hagersville.“I am giving back to sport what sport gave to me,” she says.“It’s been a nice journey. But it hasn’t ended. There will still be something. Even if I’m not 16 anymore, I can still put in a 16-hour day.”MSonnenberg@postmedia.com read more