June 19, 2024
Sports Obituary

Veteran official Tammaro dies Hall of Famer, 82, suffers heart attack

Former basketball referee Tony Tammaro, a 1994 inductee into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame whose colorful and energetic style made him a household name across the state, died of an apparent heart attack Tuesday, according to his nephew, Mike Tammaro.

Tammaro was 82.

The Woodland native refereed in 38 consecutive Eastern Maine basketball tournaments and compiled an impressive resume during his life.

He was a certified basketball official for more than 50 years.

“Tony, no question, is legendary in our state. He’s probably truly one of the best-known personalities in our state, bar none,” said Maine Basketball Commissioner Pete Webb, who also serves as president of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials.

Webb, who worked with Tammaro for 20 years as an official, goes back a long way with him.

“As a matter of fact, Tony refereed when I played and he did when both my sons, Kyle and Michael, officiated,” he said. “We all ended up working with him.”

Webb said he’s reasonably sure Tammaro officiated more varsity high school and college games than anyone else in the country. Tammaro routinely worked 85 to 95 games a season.

“I know the figure was around 4,500 games, and that’s astronomical. I did quite a few and I ended up around 2,080, just to give you some idea,” Webb said. “And that was spread over 37 years. That’s pretty rare and here he worked at least double that.”

Webb said he believes this was Tammaro’s 57th or 58th season working Washington County varsity basketball games and he also has done New Brunswick high school games the last 10 years.

Jonesport-Beals boys varsity coach Ordie Alley has known Tammaro for at least 50 of the 60 years of his life.

“Tony’s been with me ever since I was back in school and in college at University of Maine-Machias,” said Alley, who has coached the Royals for 37 years. “He was a wonderful person, I can tell you that. He’s always been encouraging and helpful.

“I can remember one time down at WA [Washington Academy], I was, poor devil, I was a little upset at a call and threw a towel in the air and it landed right on top of his head,” Alley added. “He looked right at me and said ‘Don’t you ever do that again.’

“He was excellent in every way to me and he was quite an inspiration to everyone around down here from coaches, players and officials. I mean, everybody, Tony was one of those people who talked to everyone. It’s going to be a tremendous loss to the community.”

Alley said he thinks Jonesport-Beals was one of the first teams to put Tammaro on its preferred officials list.

“I think that’s how he got his foot in the door for the tournament back in the early 50’s,” Alley said.

“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the man. He was excellent in every way to me and he was quite an inspiration to everyone around down here from coaches, players and officials.”

In addition to Tammaro’s basketball exploits, the former Golden Gloves welterweight boxer played, managed and umpired baseball for more than 60 years. He founded two semipro baseball leagues, the Border and Quoddy leagues, and organized the Woodland Red Sox in 1946.

“Many people don’t think of him this way, but he was a very good semipro baseball player as well,” Webb said. “He played about 10 or more years. He also umpired a lot of baseball games all over Canada. I think he worked games well into the late 1960’s and 70’s Canadian Senior level in semipro baseball.”

Webb said the second baseman was a pesky hitter, an aggressive player, and “as colorful a baseball official as you can be, just as he was on the basketball court.”

Woodland’s ballpark is named in his honor.

“I remember him refereeing in 1947. Red Barry brought him up when Somerville [Mass.] came up to play at the old Bangor Auditorium,” said longtime high school coach Bob Cimbollek, who won state titles at Orono and John Bapst.

“He hustled all the time. He could give and take,” added Cimbollek, who also had Tammaro as an official at high school games he played in. “He was always in good shape. You could always count on a good night’s work from Tony… He was a legend in his own time.”

Tammaro served 10 years in the state House of Representatives and, at the time of his death, he was a member of the Baileyville Town Council.

Tammaro and his wife, Marge, have three daughters and a son and his nephew Mike said the family had scheduled a get-together in Bangor on Saturday to celebrate Tony and Marge’s 65th wedding anniversary.

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing,” said Mike Tammaro, who said his uncle was a legend.

“He was larger than life,” said Mike Tammaro. “Everyone knew him, not only all across Maine but also in New Brunswick. The amount of people he knew was unbelievable. And the amazing thing was nobody said a bad thing about him. When it came to umpiring or refereeing, he was always fair.”

Webb recalled that Tammaro worked for Georgia Pacific for years and was a union negotiator as well as a member of the Woodland School Board.

“He really took pride in community involvement and was a proud, proud Downeaster,” Webb added.

Mike Tammaro added that his uncle was “full of energy” and had a remarkable memory when it came to names.

“If he met you once and then saw you again, he would remember your name. I don’t know how he did,” Mike Tammaro said.

Alley found it difficult to believe Maine’s longtime basketball ambassador had died.

“You wouldn’t think a guy like that would die of a heart attack of all things,” he said. “He lived quite a full life. Every time I saw him, I asked how his wife was doing, but I never thought about him because he was so healthy.”

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