By Steve Williams

I never thought I would be saying this, but I’m going to miss Mickey Dearstone doing the Lady Vols’ play-by-play on radio.

For years he got on my nerves with his constant criticism of the referees, and I suppose I took it personal since I was a high school official.

But in recent seasons, after I had hung up my whistle, his badgering the officials didn’t seem to bother me as much. In fact, his tirades became sort of comical.

But when you take that out of the equation, Mickey, in my opinion, actually became an excellent play-by-play broadcaster over the years. He knew the game and could describe the action so well, it “painted a picture” in the minds of his listeners. He did that almost as well as the late and great John Ward did.

I got a kick out of one of his comments in his last home broadcast at Thompson-Boling Arena when the Lady Vols and Belmont went down to the wire in their NCAA second round battle.

In the final minute of play, after five timeouts and two reviews by the officials – one that was very lengthy in which the refs still couldn’t find anything to reverse a call – a flabbergasted Dearstone deadpanned: “Before long it’s going to be my birthday … and it’s not until August.”

I listened to and recorded the Lady Vols’ next game against Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, thinking it could be Mickey’s last game behind the mike. If it was, I wanted to hear how he handled it.

While his voice slightly cracked a few times, a result of having to face the heartbreak of it being his last game, Dearstone handled his last “So long” better than most could have.

Mickey also said the broadcast “closes a career … I never thought I would do it as long as I did it. To be honest with you, I never thought I was good enough to do it that long.

“And I appreciate everybody because they let me do it my way. Sometimes good and probably sometimes made them a little nervous.

“But one thing I will take away from my time doing Lady Vol basketball is the hundreds upon hundreds of friendships that I have made doing this. I want each and every one of you to know that I appreciate you.”

After recognizing those who got him started and helped him along the way over his 23 years as “the Voice of the Lady Vols,” Dearstone said he would still be around. “I’ll get my popcorn and Coke and I’ll sit in the stands with everybody else and cheer on the Lady Vols …”

A piece of advice, if I may: Be careful what you say to the refs from your new seat Mickey. Some you have blistered over the years may want to even the score.