If you played high school or small college basketball in Kansas City from the 1970s until near the end of the century, chances are PeeWee Summers called a foul on you.
And then explained why.
“That was the thing about PeeWee,” said Curtis Whiters, who played at Van Horn and later worked as an official with Summers. “He was fair, and he always explained to you why he made the call. He would shoot straight with you.”
Summers died at age 71 on Sunday in Oklahoma City from complications with diabetes, and the Kansas City area lost a former resident who not only was a respected official at several levels, including the Big Eight and Missouri Valley Conference, but also a pioneer.
William Summers was the first African-American student at William Jewell when he enrolled in 1961. The school’s longtime coaches, Norris Patterson and Jim Nelson, had arrived about a decade earlier from Danville, Ill., where Summers grew up.
Summers became a star athlete at Jewell, competing in basketball, baseball and track. Standing 5 feet 8 and 130 pounds when arrived in college — he was nicknamed “PeeWee” for being the smallest in his family — Summers won the high jump at the 1964 NAIA national meet, leaping 6-8. Before he finished college, he had cleared 6-10.
But some of his greatest triumphs came off campus.
Current Jewell basketball coach Larry Holley was two years behind Summers, and he remembered a road trip where the team stopped at restaurant in Brunswick, Mo., and Summers was told he would have to eat in the kitchen.
“So the basketball coaches gave all the money to pay for the meal to PeeWee,” Holley said. “When they asked us who was paying, they pointed at PeeWee, and if he couldn’t sit with us they weren’t going to get paid.”
Holley, who has won 855 games in 35 years as Jewell’s coach, said it was Summers who showed him the ropes upon arriving on campus.
“He took me under his wing,” Holley said. “He really helped me through my first year in college.”
Summers went on to a professional career, working in insurance and in the office of employment training.
But he stayed close to sports, working as a baseball umpire, football official and basketball referee. By the early 1970s, he was one of the few black referees in the Kansas City area.
“You didn’t see many black referees back then, so when you did, you remembered them,” Whiters said. “And he’d talk to you during games. He’d tell a lot of us, ‘You ought to become a ref.’”
Whiters did and worked often worked with Summers calling NAIA games.
Summers caught his big break while working a Blue Springs-Raytown South game in the early 1980s. Then-Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson was there scouting a player. Richardson was impressed by Summers and after the game asked him if he was interested in calling major college games.
The next day, Summers got a call from the Missouri Valley supervisor of officials, and said in a 1995 story in The Star that Richardson was the on the receiving end of the first technical foul Summers called in a college game.
Summers called games in the Big Eight, mostly on the women’s side, and his last Division I game was in 2002, when he called a game in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Summers worked in Florida, owning several sports-related business and in 2004 returned to his hometown, where he was named executive director of the Danville Boys and Girls Club.