Hall of Fame Spotlight: Jon Springer
Posted: Monday, February 5, 2024 - 12:37 PM
Decades ago, Jon Springer had the day off from officiating and was looking forward to watching his sons play a football game for Rochester John Marshall against visiting Mankato West. As he settled into the bleachers with popcorn and a soda to wash it down, he noticed something wasn’t quite right during the pregame warmups.
There were no officials in sight. It was a Twin Cities-based crew that were no-shows.
With no officials, debate ensued on what to do. Rochester John Marshall was unable to have the game rescheduled for the following day or evening, which was a Saturday. The Mankato West coaching staff had transportation concerns with a rescheduled game preferred to play right then and was open to options. Moments later, Rochester John Marshall legendary football coach John Drews spotted Springer in the crowd and motioned him down to the field.
He had been recruited. On his night off.
With no officiating equipment in his possession, Springer and three others had to be resourceful in creating what they needed to work the game. Springer removed his cowboy boots and borrowed tennis shoes from a team manager. The officiating crew wore Mankato West shirts and used shoestrings to hold whistles. For penalty flags, they used scrimmage jerseys.
“It was the darndest thing,” said Springer, now a longtime Zumbrota resident. “There was another guy from Rochester that helped, and a basketball coach from Faribault, who was scouting the two teams, came down to work and another guy from Mankato West worked the other line. It really went well and remains one of my fondest memories. It’s a heck of a story.”
Not only does Springer have a treasure trove of stories, anecdotes and milestones over an officiating career that spans 60 years, his adventure at Rochester John Marshall on that day so long ago aptly illustrates his commitment and dedicated service to Minnesota’s high school students. He will be recognized for his legacy of service through officiating as part of the
League’s Hall of Fame Class of 2024 during an induction ceremony on Sunday, April 14 at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront Hotel.
Springer, who grew up in Millville and then graduated from Elgin as its valedictorian, is the first official from Southeast Minnesota to be selected to the League’s prestigious Hall of Fame.
“I am very humbled by being selected,” Springer says with a shake of the head. “There are so many others that probably are warranted, so it’s really nice to be chosen. I never thought something like this would happen. I had no reason to believe I’d ever be in that kind of group.”
After four years of service in the United States Air Force, Springer’s officiating journey began when he first registered with the League as a football and basketball official in 1963. He later added baseball in 1965, even when registration was not yet required.
In 1974, Springer celebrated his first decade-plus of football officiating by being selected the referee of the Class C Championship game between Bird Island and Battle Lake. Seven Prep Bowl championship games as the referee would follow over the next two decades at the Metrodome. Springer’s reach and impact weren’t just felt on the field where he became one of the most respected officials in Minnesota.
Springer was an avid officiating educator with his leadership in many roles, including a Rules Interpreter in Football and a Baseball/Softball Coordinator.
“I enjoyed being around the students, and for the most part, they were very respectful,” Springer said. "There was one time, a player was down on the field. I went to look in on him and he says, “Mr. Springer, it’s good to see you,” and then smiles. That’s fun stuff and really rewarding. I When I wasn’t working, I enjoyed giving back to help others on their (officiating) paths, too.
Springer, a 60-year member of Rochester Officials Association, was honored by the Minnesota Vikings for his officiating legacy on Christmas Eve against the Green Bay Packers. It was the latest in many recognitions that also includes League Merit Awards, Distinguished Service Awards and honors from the Baseball Coaches Association and the Rochester Quarterbacks Club.
“At one point, my folks thought I should become a minister, but that didn’t work out too well because it didn’t fit my personality,” said Springer, who worked for IBM for 32 years as an engineer.
Springer and his wife, Patricia, have four children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. He maintains strong relationships, not only with his family, but also with a multitude of friends and school administrators.
“Jon really knew how to work with people and how to manage a game,” said Hall of Fame member Kevin Merkle, a longtime former League Associate Director. “He could enforce the rules in the way that they were needed, while doing so in a way that garnered respect from participants and coaches. Jon was accomplished in both the art and science of officiating.”