Minnesota State Referee Committee in turmoil.

At the time of this writing, the battle lines remain drawn, but cooler heads appear to be starting to prevail, so all might not be lost in this beautiful little state that gave us Californians the 16-time world champion Lakers.

In fact, by the time I hit SEND, this sorry episode very well might have resolved itself… one can hope.

Nonetheless, there will be reflection, there will be wounds to lick, and for the sake of the Federation and its member state associations, hopefully there will be lessons learned… and not repeated.

Over the past month, the Land of 10,000 Lakes was with – then without – then with a partially functional State Referee Committee, as the result of an amazing (and amazingly unnecessary) showdown between local soccer superhero action figures… that would be the leadership of the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association (and its 70,000 or so registered players), the Minnesota State Referee Committee, and the Minnesota Soccer Association (and its 5,000ish adult players).

Spoiler Alert: Registrations = Clout.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good controversy as much as the next guy, but it’s late January, and Minnesota has thousands of referees to register, hundreds of rookies to teach, and dozens of eager beavers to train… all before the ice melts. There is too much to do and no time to endure a deep freeze of inactivity as we sort out the Grade 8’s from the 7’s (and from the NEW 7’s)… and all that fun stuff.

Ask five soccer friends in Minnesota, and you’ll probably get five variations of the same story. But I suspect that all five will agree: the air over Minnetonka doesn’t smell quite so clean at the moment.

Sometime around January 15, Minnesotans awoke to the following posted on the home page of the Minnesota State Referee Committee website – you know, the place referees might go to in order to find a recertification or entry level class for referees in their local community:

A feud between local stakeholders was well underway. Three key positions on the State Referee Committee “were considered vacated,” but I’m not so sure that the three office holders had actually willfully resigned in order to “vacate” them.

At various times over the past year, the leadership at MYSA found itself at odds with members of the SRC. I am told that MYSA officers took exception to some comments apparently made by SRC members – you know, the volunteers who log countless hours coming up with a curriculum to teach our referees, an equitable system to provide field assessments, and a support structure to encourage referees to not only stay with it but perhaps develop a desire to grow with soccer and improve their craft.

Apparently, at the core of the dust-up was an accusation that State Director of Instruction Doug Marshak had insinuated that youth referees who are abused would not be fully supported by the MYSA – a claim Mr. Marshak has vehemently denied. According to Mr. Marshak, the SRC had asked MYSA’s support of a pilot program designed to raise awareness of under-age referees being verbally berated at games without having coaches and spectators removed… an idea that may or may not have received some level of initial support from MYSA. Now, maybe such a program is a good idea, and maybe it isn’t… but it certainly didn’t need to become the flashpoint of a raging inferno.

Our friends at MYSA flexed their muscle… and demanded resignations — from State Referee Administrator Paula Hildman on down. Of course, there is a bit of an inherent problem there: MSA (that would be the adult association) was not in agreement with MYSA and didn’t support the demand.

I will be the first to admit that when I lived in Region 2 (I made it through 36 Midwest winters), many of us (myself included) tended to get a bit anxious, depressed, even “off our rockers” in the dead of winter – that whole cabin fever thing as the snow level reached three feet. But for the leadership of MYSA to call for resignations of the SRA, SDI and other members of the Committee… because they found themselves on opposite sides of an idea? And without the support of the MSA?

On Monday, January 20, the State Referee Committee website apparently ended its hunger strike in protest of these shenanigans. The updated home page appeared after U.S. Soccer’s Adrian Garibay apparently sent the following in an E-mail to Ms. Hildman on Friday, January 17 (the link is in red):


I will be brief so that we can be clear and you can move forward. You are the Minnesota SRA and you should continue with referee registrations immediately.


Apparently, our colleagues over at MYSA didn’t get the memo… the Referee page of the youth website showed the following on January 20:

While this stand-off appears to be moving towards some kind of resolution – it seems that there’s a consensus that Urule Igbavboa remains the State Youth Referee Administrator and Bob Petersen is the State Director of Assessment – the future of Mr. Marshak as SDI remains in question, and that troubles me because I have seen the curriculum and instructional materials that have come from Minnesota… and I also know how long it takes to develop new materials (tick tock, tick tock).

In addition to the Lakers, Minnesota can take credit for the development of current PRO Referee Fotis Bazakos, current PRO (and former FIFA) Assistant Referee Anthony Vasoli, and former FIFA Referee Elias Bazakos, amongst other top National Referees. How is the next generation of Minnesotans supposed to be mentored without a proven and experienced SDI at the helm?

What troubles me even more: Such a power play could easily be coming soon to a State Referee Committee near you. Why? Our antiquated “two-party system” remains the method of choice for how State Referee Administrators are appointed (or should I say anointed) – the leadership of the local youth and amateur associations get together and reach a consensus (apparently a consensus of two… once you get past the “we have 14 times more player registrations that you” thing). No input is required to be considered from U.S. Club Soccer. The Development Academy program also has no clearly defined voice in the conversation.

Throughout our great Soccer Nation, the World’s Game has evolved by leaps and bounds… even in Minnesota. Why do we continue to follow this antiquated system of local governance?

And so, I dare to pose the question: Is it time for the Federation to fine-tune the State Referee Administrator appointment process… or to introduce a better one?

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