04/01/2015 04:42 EDT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Fox 40 whistles part of the sound of March Madness

One sure bet at this year's NCAA March Madness basketball tournament is that every time you hear an official blow the whistle during the tournament, it's a Fox 40.

The Ontario-made whistles are the official tool of NCAA referees. And that sound is music to the ears of Ron Foxcroft, the inventor and founder of the Fox 40.

"It's beautiful. It's absolutely beautiful," says Foxcroft of the sound of his whistles.

He even loves the look of them — the whistles are incorporated in the art decorating the Fox 40 headquarters in Hamilton, Ont.

Foxcroft was a high school dropout and a career basketball referee.

He remembers working the 1976 Olympic gold medal game before a record crowd in Montreal. And then his whistle failed.

"I was in the trail position. I blew my whistle and the pea got stuck," he recalls. "That was the first time I thought you know what, it's one thing to muck a high school game in Hamilton. It's another to muck up the gold medal when your whistle doesn't work."

Foxcroft went to work on his vision of the perfect whistle. He met with an engineer to design a whistle, but without the pea or small ball inside.

Then came the part where he needed to convince his fellow referees to us the new whistle. It was at 2 a.m., in a dormitory filled with 400 referees, that he made his pitch.

"I had my prototype, and I blew it and all the referees came running," he remembers.

There was so much demand he made an order that afternoon for 20,000 whistles.

Southern Ontario-made

Every Fox 40 begins taking shape at a plastics plant in Mississauga. There are now 11 models and 37 colours.

"People look at the whistle and think it's just a whistle but there's a lot more to it," says Carmine Santarelli, the president of Nordica Plastics Ltd., the company that manufactures Fox 40s.

"A few thousands of an inch, a variation from chamber to chamber can throw the pitch off and turn a good whistle bad."

The whistle's three chambers are welded together.

"You'll hear a high-pitched sound, welding the whistle together to make one piece. It creates a sound like a musical instrument, each of the chambers is tuned to a musical note," says Dave Foxcroft, Ron's son. "The three sounds come together in a vibrating sound that creates the shrill sound of the Fox 40 whistle."

That sound is heard around the world in professional and amateur sports. A specially designed one even made it into space.

Fox 40 has grown to 900 products — including safety kits, coaching gear, mouth guards and a blast horn.

But whistle remains the company's defining product. Foxcraft says there are 11,000 Fox 40 whistles sold every day.