Steve Hicks had spent close to two decades running up and down the hardwood as a varsity basketball referee before he had to make a life-changing decision.

After tearing the meniscus in his right knee about four years ago, Hicks' career in officiating slowed down a lot. In fact, so much so that a medical recommendation gave him the incentive to hang up his whistle for good.

"I had gone to the doctor and he told me that if I kept officiating I would eventually have to have a knee replacement," Hicks said. "I didn't think I was quite ready for that, so I decided to put the refereeing aside."

After serving his 19th and final season of officiating at the varsity level in 2010, Hicks spent a year away from the game before receiving an opportunity to get involved in the sport once again.

This time, there was no need to constantly run up and down the court during a game. Instead, he got the chance of sit comfortably along the sidelines as a member of Don Delich's coaching staff with the Palmerton girls' program. It was a chance Hicks said he couldn't pass up once he heard of it from the Bombers' Athletic Trainer Dave Smith.

"Trainer Dave had told me that coach Delich was looking for a freshmen girls' coach," said Hicks, who had been the head coach for the Bombers' boys' soccer team the last two seasons. "I had just retired in June, so I told coach Delich I had all the time in the world now. I would really like to stay active in the game of basketball and I would be willing to take on the responsibility of coaching the freshmen. Thankfully, he took me on board."

The idea worked out for both parties, as Delich, who just so happened to be an official himself back in the early '90s, knew that Hicks was more than qualified to handle the task of building the future of the program.

"When I found out that Steve was interested and was available from Trainer Dave, obviously I jumped at the chance," Delich said. "I wanted to get him. I have known him for years as an official and in order to referee you obviously have to have a pretty good knowledge of the game. To have him on my staff, and bring his expertise is simply an asset to the program.

"It's not just his knowledge of the game, but it takes patience to work with our young freshmen team. You need someone who is very patient and very knowledgeable and he is both of those."

Whether it was going from refereeing to coaching or coaching to refereeing, the game didn't change that drastically for Hicks. That made the transition a lot easier.

It helped that Hicks had spent time as an assistant on his daughter's fifth and sixth grade team over two decades ago. In addition to that, Hicks, with the assistance of his wife, ran a youth basketball program for nine to 15-year olds in Forks Township about 10 years ago. From 1993 to 2003, Hicks was the man in charge of roughly 26 teams and more than 200 children.

Still, there was a bit of a learning curve during the first few weeks handling the reigns of a freshmen team. And when he needed some advice or assistance, Hicks knew he had the luxury of being able to talk to Delich or first-year assistant coach Tony Thomas.

"It's a big help having two head coaches above me," Hicks said. "You have Coach Delich and you also have Tony Thomas, who was the head girls' coach at Lehighton. If I have any questions, I usually go over and ask them. Them being around has really helped me get back into the swing of coaching again."

Delich said Hicks has been a huge addition to the staff.

"I am thrilled with my coaching staff," Delich said. "I feel like I have stolen Tony from Lehighton and with his expertise he has been a valuable asset. Then to have Steve, who is a class guy, I'm just thrilled to death to have him on our staff. He serves as a coach and our head scout. He's willing to go out on those scouting trips whenever we need him to. He is enthusiastic and he is a great addition to our staff."

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HISTORY REPEATED ... The Northern Lehigh boys' basketball team defended its title as the Slatington Rotary Christmas Tournament champions by knocking off Jim Thorpe in the final, 48-30. It was an outcome the area has seen before.

Every year since Jim Thorpe joined the tournament in 2008, the Olympians have beaten Palmerton in the semifinals only to lose to the Bulldogs in the championship game. Northern Lehigh has won the last four titles by 18, 16, 13, and 3 points respectively.

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OFFENSIVE OUTBURST ... Last Wednesday was a night to remember for Lehighton freshman James Farano.

Heading into the Slatington Rotary Christmas Tournament Consolation game, Farano had totaled just 12 points in his first three games since getting called up to the varsity. That night he exploded for a game-high 28 points against Palmerton and helped his Indians pick up their first win of the season in overtime, 66-63.