John's Journal: Nothing Stops Multi-Sport Official M.J. Wagenson
She Made History as First Female To Officiate In Football State Semifinals
Posted: Friday, November 18, 2022 - 12:44 PM
Minnesota history was made at U.S. Bank Stadium on Friday when M.J. Wagenson of Pine Island became the first female official to work a football state semifinal game. She was part of the crew for the Class 2A game between Barnesville and Jackson County Central.
M.J., who also officiates basketball, volleyball and softball, is one of the most dedicated officials you will ever meet. That dedication was apparent on a day in May 2018 when she kept her commitment to umpire a softball game despite being involved in a serious car accident on her way to the game. M.J.'s vehicle was declared a total loss (as was the other car), and yet she arrived at the field to work the game.
Here's a story about that episode, which was originally posted here on May 21, 2018.
A Major Car Accident, But The Umpire Still Did Her Job
M.J. Wagenson was in such a hurry to get from one softball game to another that she was still wearing her chest protector and shin guards while driving. After working behind the plate at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III tournament in Rochester, the veteran umpire was driving 13 miles to a high school game in Stewartville last Thursday. And everything was going fine until another driver pulled out in front of her.
The result? Two vehicles that were total losses, but amazingly no injuries other than very minor burns on Wagenson’s hands from the air-bag deployment.
“With all the miles we put on as officials, I’m just thankful everybody was OK,” said Wagenson, a Pine Island resident who began working as an MSHSL softball and basketball official in 1986. She has worked many state tournaments in both sports and in 2016 she became the first female official at the boys state basketball tournament (where she also worked in 2017 and 2018). And after 32 years as a basketball and softball official, she has registered as a football official for the 2018-19 season.
Wagenson and Marshall Behrens had each umpired three junior college games in Rochester before driving separately to the game in Stewartville; it’s a testament to the shortage of officials in Minnesota that they were scheduled for four games in one day. (Wagenson's vehicle is the top one in this photo, with the other car on the bottom.)
As they departed for Stewartville, Behrens was driving a few minutes ahead of Wagenson. After he arrived at the field, she called and said she had been in a car accident.
He told her, “ ‘Oh, that’s funny.’ But then I could tell in her voice it was real. I said, ‘Are you OK? Do you need me to come get you?’ ”
The wreck happened on the north end of Stewartville. The other driver pulled out from a convenience store, right into Wagenson’s path. She had a split second to turn her wheel before the left front of her 2011 Honda CRV struck the other vehicle in the left rear.
“The gentleman was exiting the Kwik Trip, turning left to go north,” she said. “I was southbound on the divided highway there. I was in the left lane, there was a pickup in the right lane, the guy tried to scoot in front of the pickup and didn’t see me.”
Behrens, who was planning to work the bases, asked a parent to tell the coaches from Hayfield and Stewartville that the game would start a little late. He began changing into his home-plate gear.
“The coaches were great,” he said. “All they cared about was M.J.”
At this point, Wagenson was standing on the side of the highway. Passersby had stopped and someone called 911 while she called Behrens.
Wagenson teaches sport management at Rochester Community and Technical College. One of the two tow-truck drivers who arrived was one of her former students, and she climbed aboard the truck for a ride to the softball game.
“I said, ‘Could one of you give me a ride to the field?’ ” Already wearing her chest protector and shin guards, she grabbed her mask, field shoes, wallet and phone from the now-wrecked car. After the game in Stewartville ended, she called to arrange for a rental car, Behrens gave her a ride to pick it up, then she went to the tow yard and emptied everything else out of her car.
Her Honda, which had around 38,000 miles when she bought it in 2013, finished its driving days with 185,000 miles on the odometer.
Wagenson said she feels very grateful to be able to walk away from such a serious accident.
“My family’s lost a few family members and some close friends in the last year,” she said. “Standing on the side of the road, I was thanking all my angels. My sister texted me later and said, ‘I hope you thanked them all.’
“One of my friends said, ‘You went to the game?’ Missing the game never crossed my mind. I thought, ‘Marshall’s down there working the game and I’ve got to get there.’ ”
As the the game in Stewartville began with Behrens working solo, he never doubted that Wagenson would appear. And she did.
“In the bottom of the third inning, she strolled up like nothing had happened,” he said. “She got a nice ovation from everybody.”
--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 firstname.lastname@example.org