Even by his own standards, the 2018-19 school year was a busy one for Coffeen official Louis Lang.
Lang, who stays busy officiating during the football, basketball and softball seasons at the high school level, officiated 15 playoff games this year, including his third trip to the IHSA state softball tournament.
After making his first two trips in 2011 and 2016, Lang was selected to officiate the 2019 tournament at the Class 1A and Class 2A level. As an added bonus, he got to make the trip to East Peoria with an old friend, one he hadn't seen in more than 35 years.
"When Chris Long (the tournament's umpire in charge) told me that I had been selected, I checked the list and saw that Bruce Mayhew was officiating too. Bruce was two years older than me at Marion and we ran around together a lot," Lang said. "Theresa and I were able to go out with Bruce and his wife and share stories about our high school days. It was great."
Not only was Mayhew at the same tournament as Lang, but the two old friends were able to do both games together, Friday's Class 2A 11-3 semifinal win by Pinckneyville over Olympia and Saturday's dramatic 2-0 victory by Peru St. Bede over Hardin Calhoun in the Class 1A third place game.
"It was 0-0 going into the top of the seventh and Peru St. Bede had bases loaded with two outs. The batter hit a ball back to the Calhoun pitcher and she tried to get the out at home," Lang explained. "The catcher wasn't expecting it and two runs came around to score. That's something you won't forget."
The trip to state was also a little bittersweet for Lang, who lost a friend and colleague in Long just weeks after the tournament, when the 62-year-old veteran official passed away from a heart attack on June 11.
"I'm blessed to say that I was able to umpire with him in his last game at the Farina South Central Sectional, when he was at third base and I was at home plate, and was part of the last crew he was in charge of at the state tournament," Lang said. "The best thing is that he was a Christian. We always talked about God when we saw each other."
Long's passing drove home the point that life is precious and you should make the most out of the chances you have for Lang, who battled his own health problems after a diabetes diagnosis in February. But with a change in diet and a loss of 15 pounds, Lang said he is feeling better than ever.
The fact that he got to be a part of some pretty cool events this year doesn't hurt Lang's mood either.
For the first time in his career, Lang officiated two rounds of the football playoffs, starting out with Class 1A Concord Triopia in week one, followed by a trip to Athens in Class 2A.
In girls basketball, Lang officiated the regional at Trenton Wesclin, followed by the sectional at Central A&M, where he watched Hume Shiloh move on en route to an eventual fourth place finish in Class 1A.
Lang was also able to officiate the Carlinville Rotary All-Star Game, which he said was a highlight of this year.
"Boy, that was a run and gun game," Lang said. "We let them play and they had a lot of fun out there."
In softball, the road to state started with the Gillespie Regional, followed by the sectional in Farina and the super sectional at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Action on the diamond also yielded one of Lang's other highlights, this time on the baseball side as he was picked to be behind the plate for Greenville's game at Busch Stadium on June 22.
"After the top of the eighth, Hutch (Greenville Coach Todd Hutchinson) pulled his seniors off the field one last time," said Lang. "It was really something."
Lang mentioned seeing Albert Pujols' home run in his return to Busch Stadium as another highlight of the day, and was able to talk shop with Major League Baseball Umpire Ted Barrett briefly before the start of the Greenville game.
"The whole family was able to be down there, which made it even better," said Lang, who is a full-time grandfather to two-year-old Brooklyn. "I really want to thank my family for all the support."
That support was needed even more this year as Lang added athletic director to his repertoire, joining Drew Logan and Victoria Knoche in handling the AD duties at Litchfield High School this year.
"I was thankful that I could help out Litchfield," said Lang, who answered the call when the IHSA asked if Litchfield would be interested in hosting a softball and girls soccer sectional this spring. "I stepped in when they needed help and I know they appreciate that."
All told, it was a unique and special year for Lang, all thanks to officiating. Now, he just needs more people to sign up to have some of those same experiences.
"We really need more people to become officials," Lang said, who will be back on the playing fields for junior high baseball and softball, fall high school baseball and JFL starting on Aug. 10..
Who knows, maybe the next Louis Lang is out there right now.