By Travis Mounce
Barry County native Lisa Pitts has recently received a prestigious honor in the world of sports.
Pitts, who will be turning 50 this month, has made the sport of basketball her passion in life, finding her roots on a dirt court next to her family's farm house, maturing into a championship competitor in high school, and later, becoming one of the most successful referees in the game. These accomplishments have led to Pitts becoming the first female to be inducted into the Arkansas Officials Association Hall of Fame.
According to Pitts, this is an unexpected honor that she didn't really expect, nor aspire to. Pitts was quoted in the Benton County Daily Record as saying, "Being inducted into the Hall of Fame . . . I never dreamed this would happen. It wasn't one of my goals when I started."
Perhaps Pitts' modesty comes from growing up in a quiet rural community. Looking back, Pitts has fond memories of the sense of closeness that came from growing up on a farm near Seligman where her love of basketball found its genesis in the time she spent with siblings, cousins and neighboring children looking for ways to pass the time on a warm afternoon.
The bonds she formed at a young age would eventually carry over into her teenage years at Southwest High School, where she found herself playing championship basketball side-by-side with her sister, Brenda, her cousins, India Norman, Johannah Preston, as well as Lisa Alley (now Mitchell) from 1974 to 1977.
During that successful run, Coaches Tom Tabor and Garry Flippin watched Pitts develop into an All-District player who would ultimately receive All-State selection status.
From there, Pitts joined the work force, taking a job with the company formerly known as Union Carbide, now officially owned by the Glad/Clorox Corporation.
Although she had began working long hours on a rotating graveyard shift, Pitts still could not let go of her love for basketball, and in 1982, after getting her license to officiate in the state of Arkansas, she began to referee for a modest number of junior high-level boys and girls basketball games.
Despite the fact that she received very few calls to referee games in the early years of her career, she found a sense of satisfaction.
"I just love being involved with the game of basketball," said Pitts.
Eventually, Pitts moved up to working high school varsity games, her first of which was a boys' game in 1988. From there she was afforded the opportunity to attend an officiating training camp, which would eventually help her establish contacts that allowed her to referee at the national and international levels.
In the meantime, Pitts gained her first collegiate officiating experience in 1990 when she had a chance to work the Arkansas Intercollegiate Women's Conference Game.
During the following year Pitts also worked her first Southeastern Conference game and was invited to do so again in 1993, which opened the door for her to be added to the SEC Officiating Staff in 1994. In 2003, Pitts had the chance to officiate at the SEC Tournament.
In 1992, Pitts was also commissioned to work in her first NCAA Division 1 Conference game for the Missouri Valley Conference, which led to Pitts officiating as a member of the Big 8, Big 12, Sunbelt, Western Athletic Conference and the Mid-Continent Conference.
During this time, her work in the Missouri Valley Conference included the 1994, 1995 and 1998 Conference Tournaments, and subsequently, the first round of the NCAA Tournaments held in 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2002.
As if Pitts wasn't busy enough during this time, she had also officiated at the AAA Arkansas State Boys Tournament in 1993, where she had the honor of mediating at the championship game.
That same year Pitts also worked the Regional Junior College Tournament, a tradition she kept for 11 consecutive years, in addition to officiating the NCAA Division II Elite 8 and National Championship that same year.
Pitts' impressive career didn't stop at the national level. In 1994 she received her International FIBA Certification, which allowed her to land jobs in international venues, including the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Macau, China, where she was a referee in the Asian Games.
With all of these credentials, it seems fitting that Pitts will be the first woman in Arkansas history to be inducted into the AOA Hall of Fame.
Due to a promotion within the Clorox Corporation, Pitts has cut back her workload on the basketball court, now working an average of 40 games per year while still traveling the country extensively. She primarily works Division II, NAIA and junior college games in addition to attending numerous clinics and camps in the off-season to further enhance her officiating skills.
Pitts is the daughter of the late Jim Pitts and Mary Sue Pitts. Her other family members include her brother, Scott Pitts, her sister, Brenda Jennings, a nephew, R.J. Jennings, and nieces, Libby and Jaime Jennings.