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John’s Journal: Kim Royston Goes From Big Ten To Back Judge

All-Big Ten Player Is In First Year As An Official

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2021 - 10:57 AM


Kim Royston


From left to right are Kim Royston, Jarrod Leder, Chad Evenson, Dean Kockelman and Toby Sackett.

The big break that led Kim Royston to a career in educational leadership, as well as becoming an MSHSL football official, was an actual big break.

If his name rings a bell, that’s because Royston was a supremely talented football player. He was a first-team all-state wide receiver and defensive back at Cretin-Derham Hall, where he graduated in 2005. He played football at the University of Wisconsin for two years before transferring to Minnesota, where he finished his career in 2011.

He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, received the Carl Eller Award as the Gophers’ outstanding defensive player and also was named Minnesota's defensive back of the year.

What broke was one of his legs. He suffered the injury during spring practice in 2010 and missed that season. He was granted a medical waiver for a sixth year of eligibility and in 2011 he started at safety in all 12 games and led the team in tackles.

Before the injury he was focused on working toward a career playing professional football. But his time on the sideline, as well as on the practice field and in the film room, shed new light on his future. Already a team captain, he basically became a Gophers coach.

“I enjoyed that process of working with younger guys,” he said. “I had my undergrad degree already and I didn’t have any intentions to get a master’s right away because I had set my mind on the NFL. But I started working on a master’s in education and really developed a passion for leading and developing young people.”

He spent a year as a graduate assistant football coach at Temple University in Philadelphia and was an assistant coach at Armstrong High School before moving into an administrative career. He was activities director at Minneapolis Southwest High School, assistant activities director at Shakopee and is currently an assistant principal at Plymouth Middle School.

His name was in the news in April when he was the first building administrator to arrive at an incident where a student fired a gun. He was known as an unflappable athlete, and he’s the same as an administrator as well as a first-year football official.

At 34 years old, Royston is married with a 10-month-old son and quite busy. But he wanted to stay connected and give back to the sport he loves while helping ensure that today’s student-athletes are allowed the opportunity to play.

“It’s been on my radar for at least five years,” he said. “I knew how hard it is to find officials.”

Royston is the back judge on a crew that includes referee Jarrod Leder, umpire Toby Sackett, head linesman Chad Evenson and line judge Dean Kockelman. Having played defensive back, Royston is used to being positioned in the secondary. But officiating is clearly different.

“When we worked our first scrimmage, he’d act like a free safety,” Leder said. “He would line up even with the slot and get into his crouch like he was covering him. I said, ‘Don’t get into your crouch, you just want to stand and watch.’ You can see why he was such a great player, because you tell him something once and he does it the next time.”

Royston has worked a varsity game every week this season as well as a number of sub-varsity games. It used to be quite rare for rookie officials to be on the varsity level right away, but there are fewer officials than in recent years.

Leder, 44, had an open spot on his crew this season. When Gopher State Officials Association assigner George Winn told Leder there was a new official named Kim Royston, “I distinctly remembered watching him play at Cretin,” Leder said.

“I said to George, ‘If he wants to be in officiating, based on his background, he’ll go as far as he wants. I’ll give him the best foundation I can give him.’ With his background and the way he picks up information and translates it to the field, the sky’s the limit.”

Leder, who is also an official in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, has attended officiating clinics all over the country. He said people in Minnesota don’t always realize the quality of high school officials in the state.

“We have some of the best officials in the country,” he said. “I see officiating in other parts of the country and I meet people and think, ‘How are you guys even on a field? You wouldn’t last in Minnesota.’ ”

Leder, who works as a product manager, said his daytime job entails plenty of people management, just like officiating.

“I’ll talk about stressful situations with a coach and being able to work through it. I think football has made me a better employee,” he said. “I just love doing it. You’re going to deal with people who are idiots, but you also deal with so many great people.

“This year has been really nice. About every game I get at least one person who goes out of the way to tell us thank you. People are treating us way better than in the past and I appreciate that. But really, all we want is for people to relax, get some perspective and don’t act like a jerk.”

The quality of Minnesota officiating is important to Royston, who said the game has slowed down for him as the season has progressed.

“First and foremost, I’m fortunate to be part of a great crew, and Jarrod is a great mentor and teacher,” Royston said. “The biggest thing helping me as a back judge is reading keys, knowing if it’s a run or pass, watching the DBs, making sure the ball doesn’t get behind you. It’s almost like playing safety. When I started, my natural instinct was to go towards the ball on a pass. But you want to make sure you’re stationary and focus on the play. I needed to emphasize that with myself.

“I’m loving it. I’m learning new things every week. It’s really therapeutic after a long hard day at the middle school to go out there in nice weather, working in the game you love.”

Royston is trying to recruit new officials to join the profession, just as he has.

“I’ve been doing my best to get the bug into the friends I played with,” he said. “I’ll continue doing that.”


 --MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at 

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