John’s Journal: No. 2 From 2022-23/ A Powerful Statement About Respecting Officials
La Crescent-Hokah Boys Basketball Captain Stands Up For Sportsmanship
Posted: Saturday, July 8, 2023 - 12:35 PM
In mid-December I drove to Rushford-Peterson High School in southeast Minnesota for a basketball game between the home team and the visitors from La Crescent-Hokah. The game was secondary to my mission that evening. Working with Lancers coach Ryan Thibodeau, I had set up a pregame interview with La Crescent-Hokah senior Noah Bjerke-Wieser. We sat off by ourselves and talked about what he had done a few days earlier in the name of sportsmanship and respecting officials. What he had done was quite remarkable, and he has been recognized nationally.
The story was originally posted on Dec. 19.
Noah Bjerke-Wieser had seen enough. The senior captain of the boys basketball team at La Crescent-Hokah High School in the southeast corner of Minnesota was frustrated and wanted to do something. The problem was sportsmanship, particularly mistreatment of officials.
Last Tuesday evening, Noah went home after the Lancers defeated Fillmore Central 62-53 in a Three Rivers Conference game in La Crescent. Thinking of how people had acted toward the officials, he started to write. He told his mom, Jamie, what he intended to say.
“I went to her and I was like, ‘I think I'm going to post this. What do you think about it?,’ ” Noah told me. “She said, ‘I don't know if you should.’ I told her I feel like I should because it can help, it can only do positive things.”
He posted his message on Facebook at 10:18 p.m. and the darn thing exploded. In 239 very well-written, very respectable words, he asked everyone to think about what they had been doing:
“Hello Lancer community, I am Noah Bjerke-Wieser and I would like to talk about our team’s basketball game tonight. We all know that there were some controversial calls but nothing is going to be perfect. As a captain of the varsity team I would like to come out and say we need to stop yelling at the refs, us as players, and as spectators in the stands. Nobody will ever call a perfect game and everybody makes mistakes. We all get it is frustrating watching and playing in a game where the officiating is not great. But we need to stop. It is hard enough to get officials to ref a varsity game anyway, it doesn’t help when they specifically don’t want to ref for a La Crescent game because they know they will be getting yelled at. I personally would appreciate it if we could change the “La Crescent way” and when refs see La Crescent on the schedule they WANT to ref for us because of how great our team and fan base are. As players and spectators we need to let the players play, the officials officiate, and the fans cheer. I know I am not perfect in this too but we need to change. I hope we can all come together as a community and change for the better. Thank you for coming and supporting us but let’s support our team in a positive way.”
Someone sent me his note via Twitter, and I posted it to my followers. It also was posted on the MSHSL Facebook page. The reaction was overwhelming.
--"Awesome read! Proud of this high school student recognizing this issue. Kids just want to play and have fun.”
--" Well said! You sound like a great leader for your teammates & fans! Keep up the great work!”
--"Every community needs to hear this. I hope this spreads like wildfire.”
--" So cool to see a player writing this.”
Thousands of social media Likes and positive messages later, Noah has been a little taken aback by the reaction.
“I didn't think it was going to get that big,” Noah told me in Rushford on Friday night, where the Lancers played Rushford-Peterson. “But after I really thought about it as coming from a student, more people are going to think it's more of a problem, right? Everyone said they've been super proud, that they’re glad I did that or thankful I did that.”
He had seen people treat officials poorly during games in La Crescent for a long time. Something clicked after the Fillmore Central game, leading him to his keyboard afterwards.
“I've thought about it in the past and I didn't really think it was that big of a deal,” he said of the treatment toward officials. “But that game really stood out to me.”
La Crescent-Hokah coach Ryan Thibodeau, who was unaware that Noah was planning to post anything, said, “Number one, what a positive message. And it touches everybody in this region and it touches everybody in the country. And there’s the leadership piece of it, too. Until we started basketball this season, I didn’t really see Noah as more of that vocal piece. And now to watch him act as a leader; I know how hard he works and his teammates see that stuff. But to be able to speak your opinion and not feel afraid of any sort of pushback was impressive.”
The MSHSL and other organizations, including the National Federation of State High School Associations, regularly post messages about the importance of officials and showing respect toward them. Across the country, there is a shortage of youth and high school officials, with mistreatment by fans among the biggest reasons.
It can be difficult for those messages to sink in, but such a clear, powerful, honest statement from a student-athlete takes it to another level.
“It's an opportunity to learn and to teach about the message,” Thibodeau said. “It's just a good, positive general message that's not pertaining to just one set of individuals. And you know, a lot of it is made out to be the people in the stands, but from my role, too, I was able to reflect on it as well; as a coach, how are my players handling these adverse situations? I really just viewed it as a powerful, general message on how we can all be better, how we can all be more positive, and how we can all appreciate just being in the gym and being together.”
Noah, who also plays football and is a member of the golf team, spent a half hour or so writing his message. His mom helped proofread the note before he posted it.
“I gave it a lot of thought and tried to use the best words that I could,” he said.
He certainly accomplished that, with words like these: “I hope we can all come together as a community and change for the better.”
Noah’s message is one that should resonate across Minnesota and around the country.
“As a captain of the varsity team I would like to come out and say we need to stop yelling at the refs, us as players, and as spectators in the stands. Nobody will ever call a perfect game and everybody makes mistakes.”
As Noah and I talked, I posed this question: “Have you ever thought about becoming an official someday?”
He smiled and said, “Yeah, I definitely want to be a basketball official and probably football, too.”
--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 [email protected]