Few, if any, knew Jim Pownall as well as Norm Lienemann.
Here’s a few thoughts Lienemann shared on the passing of his lifetime friend.
“Went to Woodrow Wilson and Decatur High School with me,” remembered Lienemann about their friendship.
“(We) played softball and baseball together for number of years,” continued he about their athletic endeavors when they were young.
“Worked high school and small college basketball games with him for 12 to 15 years, including regional and sectional games.
“We worked some football games and one state championship game,” recalled Lienemann of their officiating times together on the gridirons and courts around Decatur and central Illinois. That one state championship game Lienemann refers to that they called together came in 1981 in Class 4A when he, Pownall, Ed Norfleet of Monticello and John Coady of Taylorville worked it.
“I had my own football crew and he worked on (Bob) Hantel’s crew.
“We were good friends with Jim and Jane. Knew their kids Pat and Mary Lynn Arnold. Pat is in Peoria and Mary Lynn works at Millikin.”
And Lienemann concluded his reminiscing with this note, “He was the best man at our wedding.” That was 60 years ago as Norm and Darla recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
With that as background, I don’t think anyone can argue with and that he was one of the better officials to call games, regardless of sport.
That’s why he’s in the Amateur Softball Association Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1991 as the great umpire that he was.
That’s why he called Illinois High School Association football state championship games three times, including the aforementioned 1981 Class 4A game, and basketball state championship games twice. He was one of the officials on the Class 1A 1982 and 1983 football title games and in basketball he was one of the referees in the 1984 and 1985 state 1A championship games.
Today’s generation may remember the Pownall name as his son, Pat, is one of the better prep basketball officials. I always knew the game was in good hands when I saw Pat, and retired officials, Terry Taylor and Tim Laesch take the floor.
Pownall passed away Monday morning, Aug. 26th, at the age of 80. I last saw Jim at the Illini Club of Decatur gathering that Lovie Smith headlined last summer. We spoke at length about the games he called and his health issues that eventually silenced him when God decided it was time to bring Jim home.
Mass for Jim will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31st, at Holy Family Catholic Church in Decatur. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 Friday in Brintlinger and Earl Funeral Home in Decatur. Memorials may be made to either Holy Family Catholic Church or Millikin University Pownall Family Cancer Education and Awareness Fund.
I extend our sympathies, condolences and prayers to Jane and the entire Pownall family.
I’ll have more on Jim’s passing in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.