Throughout his high school career Jim Ely was one of the busiest student athletes around with a versatility that would be unmatched in today’s society.
He extended that athletic versatility to the business world, becoming a highly-successful referee in both football and baseball at the highest of levels.
Durant Public Schools will honor the 1949 Durant High graduate as part of it’s 5th Athletic Hall of Fame class in pre-game ceremonies prior to the Lions’ September 28th football game with Tulsa Bishop Kelley.
Ely began his high school career at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa where he starred in wrestling and swimming before moving to Durant.
Although those sports weren’t offered in Durant at the time, success continued to follow Ely in a host of other athletic competitions for the Lions where he was a three-year standout in multiple sports from 1947-1949, earning several district, regional and conference honors.
“Pee Wee”, as he was nicknamed due to his stature, almost immediately became the catalyst for the DHS boys’ softball squad as a sophomore, pitching the Lions to the Southeastern Invitational championship with four victories, including a pair of no-hitters, as well as the district championship. He also participated in football, basketball, baseball and track and field that year.
A year later Ely once again led the Lions to the Southeastern Invitational and district championships in softball but was also a key contributor on varsity squads across the board. He started at quarterback and was a two-way player on the DHS varsity football squad, helped pitch the Lions to district and regional titles in baseball.
He also somehow found time to star in track and field, capturing district titles in the broad jump, 440 yards, high jump, 180 yard hurdles and 440 yard relay.
As a senior, Ely sparked the Lion football squad to a 6-2-2 finish as the club’s starting signal-caller and safety on defense for Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Bull” Marsh, it’s first winning season in seven years. That club was renowned for it’s defensive prowess, producing one of the best defensive seasons in school history by tossing six shutouts and allowing a grand total of 40 points in 10 games.
That year the Lions again won the Southeastern Invitational and district titles in baseball, falling just shy of the state tournament when over half the team was in Oklahoma City competing in the state track meet. He also led that track squad to the Sooner Star Conference championship, winning the broad jump while also placing second in the 180 yard low hurdles.
In addition to his 10 athletic varsity letters, Ely was outstanding in the classroom as well, earning National Athletic Honor Society recognition in both 1948 and 1949.
An injury his first year in college at Southeastern put an end to Ely’s athletic career but may have set the stage for an even more prosperous professional career in officiating.
He began by refereeing junior high school football games at Durant and parlayed that into a tremendous 37-year stint that included working college games in the Southwest Conference, Big 8 Conference, Gulf Star, Lone Star and Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conferences. He also refereed numerous high school football games in Texas, including a number of state championship games before retiring in 2005. Ely officiated the Cotton Bowl for 25 straight years, the first 20 on the field and the final five as clock operator.
Jim has served as an NFL clock operator for 40 years, including the 2011 Super Bowl that was played in Arlington, Texas. In 2000 he also became a game and play clock operator for the Big 12 Conference and quickly became the official game assignor for the conference.
Football wasn’t the only sport which he was highly decorated as an official, however. Ely served as chief umpire for the 1993 Asian Baseball Games in Beijing. During that time he developed such a relationship that he was named the U.S. Emissary for the National Baseball Team of China and arranged for a United States tour playing college teams across the southwest, including Southeastern Oklahoma State.
Jim also had the opportunity to play a football referee in several movies including “Any Given Sunday” and “The Invincible” in addition to TV series “Friday Night Lights” and “4th and Long”. You may have also seen him in Pepsi-Max commercials with Tony Romo, Wade Phillips and Jerry Jones as well as six commercials for the NFL Network.