Senator features

DeKay brings a referee’s ‘quiet confidence’ to Unicameral

Above: Sen. Barry DeKay, center, with fellow referees Matt Hager, left, and Preston Foster at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln before the 2019 NSAA Class A girls state basketball final.

Nebraskans who have attended a local basketball game in the past 40 years might recognize Sen. Barry DeKay of Niobrara.

The newest representative of District 40 estimates that, since 1983, he has refereed more than 4,000 junior high, high school and college basketball games, from Gordon to Syracuse.

“Once you’re in that atmosphere,” DeKay said, “it’s an adrenaline rush.”

An avid player in his youth, DeKay grew up wanting to be a basketball coach. At the high school level, that role usually is reserved for teachers, however, and he preferred working on his family’s ranch to spending his days in a classroom.

Shortly after graduating from Lynch High School, though, DeKay found another way to participate in his favorite sport when a friend who was working as a referee asked him to step in after the friend’s partner retired.

In his “heyday,” DeKay said, he policed fouls and double dribbles for an average of 60 nights each season.

DeKay credits a “quiet confidence” for his longevity in a job that requires an ability to act decisively under pressure. He said he brings that composure — and a commonsense approach to resolving disagreements — to the Legislature.

“I take the job very seriously,” DeKay said, “and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”

This isn’t DeKay’s first public service role. On a bookshelf in his Capitol office sits a basketball covered in signatures — a parting gift from employees of the Nebraska Public Power District, where he served on the board of directors. Before that, DeKay led his local electric distribution cooperative and served as a Nebraska Rural Electric Association board member.

In his free time, DeKay enjoys playing golf and spending time with his wife, Brenda, their two children and a new granddaughter. He likes to watch college basketball games and follows the state high school basketball tournaments, even if he isn’t assigned to work.

DeKay’s 40th season as a referee coincides with his first session as a state senator, but that won’t keep him from working a few games. After the Legislature has finished its work for the day, DeKay said, he can always notify the schedulers that he’s ready for another night on the hardwood.

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