An Irreplaceable Fixture of the Cape Cod Sports Scene

Middle and high school referee, umpire and game official Keith Forker has been officiating local games for decades, seen here last fall instructing an 8th grade soccer player in Yarmouth during a penalty call. Photo by Sean Walsh/CCB Media Sports

Middle and high school referee, umpire and game official Keith Forker has been officiating local games for decades, seen here last fall instructing an 8th grade soccer player during a penalty.
Photo by Sean Walsh/CCB Media Sports

You just can’t help but be drawn to him.

And once you can see past some of the canned wisecracks and occasional goofiness, the bottom line is you’ll probably never meet a better friend to young athletes. He might be far from perfect at first blush, but they just don’t make people like him anymore. He is at one and the same time enigmatic and an anachronism.

I was semi-sold on the guy when he mentioned that his father had played baseball for St. John’s in New York City, once one of the true collegiate baseball powerhouses in the Northeast. I was intrigued. He had also mentioned to me that he himself had played three sports in college. I found that impossible to believe.

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But then I decided I wanted to get to know him and seeing we were now working together, I might as well. At a bare minimum, he was interesting to chat with to say the least. Beyond that, he seemed to be fully immersed and well-versed in the world of local high school and middle school sports – more so than pretty much anyone I’d ever met on the Cape. He sold me completely when he brought in his self-authored philosophical treatise on how to appropriately and professionally officiate a high school varsity basketball game.

To be honest, it was as brilliant as it was, on the surface, maniacal.

So I did what some people say I do best: I researched everything he told me. Was I checking him out? Not really. I truly wanted to know if there was more to this story than he was telling me. I assure you, the floodgate opened in moments. I was blown away.

Keith Forker, one of the region’s top high school basketball referees and an equally adept soccer official, has refereed for just about every middle and high school on the Cape going back three decades. He defines the word ubiquitous. He’s umpired girls’ junior varsity softball games and boys’ varsity lacrosse games. He’s run the floor with the best of them in the most well-attended, raucous, cage-match boys’ basketball games the Cape has seen over the past two dozen years. I doubt there’s a Cape Cod athlete who wouldn’t  recognize him. He’s held the yardage markers under the Friday Night Lights. He’s been a “zebra” in every imaginable way at every possible level. Quirky but comedic, Keith impressed me as someone whose listening skills and attention to detail are so vastly more honed than most of us, that it amazed me he could pass for your neighborhood landscaper, rake in hand, and you’d never think twice of it. Yes, well, that is because in addition to working at D-Y High School and officiating games every afternoon or night he squeezes in a landscaping business on the side. But that’s not the point. He’s as regular a person as you’ll ever want to meet.

So when I discovered that Keith had indeed earned nine varsity letters playing soccer, basketball and baseball at Manhattanville College in the late 1970s and early 1980s and that he had been a superlative, award-winning high school baseball and soccer and basketball player alongside his older brother, I just couldn’t believe it. Here before me sat an actual former three-sport collegiate athlete. It was as surreal as it was real.

So when I started pulling up online newspaper after newspaper article about his father Frank Forker, now retired in Florida but during the 1950s was one of New York’s top baseball prospects, I thought I’d really surprise him. I must have printed out five dozen newspaper articles before my free time ran out. I stacked them up and carted them with me into the hallways of D-Y the next morning.

When I had the chance, I grabbed Keith and told him I’d like to show him something. I slid the stack of articles in front of him – photos and all – and he started reading. And his head lowered. And his face turned red. The tears came streaming. I wasn’t sure if I had hurt his feelings somehow or overstepped the bounds of educational professionalism. I asked him if everything was all right. For the first time I’d known him, he was speechless. He tried to speak. The words wouldn’t come out.

Finally, softly, quietly he uttered, “I’ve never seen any of this before in my life.”

Part of me realized that Keith had spent years and years probably trying to prove himself in the adult world outside athletic achievement, telling folks about his glory days when it came up in conversation. Not in a conceited way, just as a simple, understated matter-of-fact. It was likely, it dawned upon me and based on his reaction that he had so deeply immersed himself in officiating so many athletic events (he literally referees year around, every day) largely because that is precisely what his life had once been. He grew up the son of an accomplished and well-known coach. His life was built upon a foundation of participating and excelling in every imaginable sporting endeavor. His entire life had been athletics on a superior level. It just didn’t seem likely because there are so few people out there like him who have remained humble in the process.

But it was all true. Every last story, every last humble detail he might have shared off the cuff, if you dragged it out of him, was legit. I was amazed. I was humbled. In a few simple clicks of a computer mouse, every last detail of what he said about his life proved accurate but more importantly, compelling. And, apparently, it meant the world to him to now have that data at his fingertips.

I sincerely miss his silly but excellent impressions of 1970s TV show actors. I surely doubt his trademark laugh and stream of heartfelt stories could ever be replaced in the classrooms or hallways of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School. The man, simply put, remains a Cape sports fixture.

But somehow this zany but very real former jock touched my heart that day. He showed me that a little bit of ingenuity can go a long way toward giving someone an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and a sense of completion or better yet, a sense of “knowing.”

I’m just glad I had the chance to get to know him in the process.

Sean Walsh is the Sports Editor for Cape Cod Broadcasting Media. His column will appear on www.capecod.com each Sunday afternoon.
He may be reached via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm