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John’s Journal: Officially Speaking, Behrens Does It All

Everybody Knows Veteran Ref/Umpire In Southeast Minnesota

Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 8:57 AM


In the summer of 1995, Marshall Behrens had just graduated from St. Charles High School. He had played high school and summer baseball, as well as other sports, all through school but there was an obstacle that summer: an age cutoff meant he couldn’t play ball with his buddies in St. Charles.

But the young man wanted to spend the summer with his friends on the baseball field. He approached coach Scott McCready, who is the baseball coach and activities director at St. Charles, about becoming a de facto volunteer assistant coach. He said, “I want to be around the guys.”

McCready’s oldest child was born that summer, causing the coach to be absent from a playoff game. But the young assistant coach took over with no hesitation.

“They whomped the other team and 26 years later, he still reminds me of it,” McCready said. “On her birthday, we text each about that. He ran that team then just like he runs a football or basketball game now. He was the arbiter then, even as a coach. It makes perfect sense where he’s ended up.”

Where has Behrens ended up? He’s one of the most well-known and respected officials in Minnesota high school sports. He officiates football and volleyball in the fall, girls and boys basketball in the winter, and baseball and softball in the spring. Away from high school sports, he also works Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference football games and amateur baseball.

Yes, he is a busy guy. He wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Officiating has become such a passion for me,” he said. “I’ve often used the word addiction. It’s so much a part of my life. The people and the relationships, the good friends, just giving back and seeing the kids. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

(In this photo from a recent football game in Rochester, left to right are Chris Zollner, Curt Hughes, Marshall Behrens, Jay Lonien and Josh Prondzinski.)

Marshall and his wife Ellie often officiate volleyball matches together. She is in her fourth season of calling that sport.

“I conned her into thinking we could go out one night a week for date night,” Marshall said. “She enjoys seeing the female athletes and she can relate to them much better than I can.”

Brad Johnson, who was the activities director at Rushford-Peterson for 20 years and now is the MSHSL region secretary for small schools in the Rochester area, called Behrens “probably the most recognizable official in southeast Minnesota among small, medium and larger schools. He’ll work anywhere. No game is too big for him and no game is too small for him. I’m so impressed with him. He treats every game the same, it doesn’t matter if it’s a pair of 1-6 teams in Week 8 for football, they’re going to get the same effort he would give in a state championship game.

“He loves the games. He works hard at it. He’s in there for the kids. He’s got great relationship with the coaches and administrators and they know they’re going to get the best with Marshall.”

An MSHSL official for more than two decades, Behrens also works as an assigner for the Rochester Area Officials Association, making sure officials are assigned to baseball and softball games as well as sub-varsity basketball games. Fellow RAOA members Jared Butson and Jeff Newton assign officials for other sports.

“That has become a labor of love, just with our numbers and trying to recruit,” Behrens said. “It just means so much to the kids to play those games. We just have to keep grinding.”

“Grinding” is an appropriate term to describe the current state of officiating, specifically the numbers of officials. It has been a growing issue in recent years and the problem has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with some officials not returning to their sports and not enough others joining the officiating ranks.

“I rack my brain about that,” Behrens said. “I cannot pin down the moving target. Compensation is always brought up. We have a big focus on getting young people involved in officiating. … We need people who are stable in the community and get them going.”

As someone who frequently officiates junior varsity and other sub-varsity games, he has learned that many of the people who used to help call those contests – many of whom went on to become registered MSHSL officials -- cannot be found now.

“There always used to be locals doing ninth-grade and JV games,” he said. “On Mondays I usually do a lower-level football game, usually working with three local guys who I tried to train up. Now schools can’t find those local people to do those ninth-grade and JV games. I worked with a 25-year-old (recently) who was all in. There’s just not enough of them who say, ‘It would be cool to go out and officiate.’ ”

Around the state, many football games are being played on Thursdays and Saturdays because there aren't enough officials available for everyone to play on Friday nights. The outlook may be grim for the winter, as well; with the number of games played in sports like basketball and hockey, it's not hard to believe that games could be cancelled due to a lack of officials.

Some football games this fall have been played with four-person officiating crews instead of the normal five (NCAA and NFL game use seven officials). It’s a problem that’s not going away. Some people give officiating a try but walk away because of abuse by spectators, family concerns or other reasons. But the glaring fact is this: More officials and judges are needed in all MSHSL sports as well as activities such as speech, debate, band, choir, etc.

(In this photo, a four-person football officiating crew worked a game last week at Pine River-Backus. From left to right are Jeff Preuss, John Kostynick, Tim Seaton and Greg Esala.)

Behrens has worked in human resources at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for 21 years. His experience as a sports official was important in being hired at Mayo.

“There are a lot of similarities between officiating and human resources work,” he said. “They actually recruited me for this position because they knew I officiated. They said, ‘You know how to handle people, how to handle difficult situations. We can teach you the nuts and bolts.’ ”

His first officiating experience came when he was a student at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He called intramural sports, enjoying the role as well as the pay, and also officiated youth basketball games.  

Behrens has lost track of how many state tournaments and state championship games he has officiated in baseball, softball, basketball and football. He is unable to work the state volleyball tournament because of his college football schedule.

“It’s obviously way more than a hobby for me,” he said. “There aren’t many hobbies where you’re making extra money. Obviously, that’s far from the reason any of us do it. But it’s an important piece for people thinking about this; it can actually pay for some fun things in your life.”

Behrens isn’t afraid to take on new challenges, as evidenced by something that happened in his hometown of St. Charles a few years back.

McCready and Butson (who teaches in St. Charles) had tried their hand at officiating powderpuff volleyball and football games during Homecoming week. It did not go well, as McCready explained …

“Our principal said, ‘Next year let’s get Marshall and Tristan Severson (of Plainview) in here. So we had like 12 years of Prep Bowl experience working powderpuff volleyball and football. We didn’t even pay them, we fed them burgers off the grill. It all goes back to the friendships.”

--TO LEARN ABOUT BECOMING AN OFFICIAL, CLICK THIS LINK: https://www.mshsl.org/officials-judges/officiating 

--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 jmillea@mshsl.org 

 


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