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John’s Journal: The Starter, And The Runner Who Became an Official

The Impact Of A High School Official Can Be Long-Lasting

Posted: Monday, June 6, 2022 - 2:40 PM


Dan Dornfeld, veteran MSHSL track and field and cross-country official, stands with Jen Myers 24 years after he was the starter for some of her high school competitions.

Jennifer Myers knew who Dan Dornfeld was. Dan had no idea about Jen.

Dornfeld is one of Minnesota’s leading veteran track and field officials – on the high school and college levels – but there’s no way he would be able to remember every athlete when some meets include more than a thousand kids.

But Myers sure remembered him. A native of Renville and 1999 graduate of Belview Danube Renville Sacred Heart, she ran at the state track meet for four years, with Dornfeld as the starter each time.

“I have vivid memories of that bright blue track (at the National Sports Center) in Blaine and the promenade of the athletes being escorted through the tunnel onto the track,” Myers said. “I felt like I was in the Olympics! Dan's calm voice and professional demeanor helped add to the feeling of magic.”

As an athlete at the College of St. Benedict, she again followed Dornfeld’s instructions when he was the starter at MIAC meets. Now a professor of exercise science at Concordia University in St. Paul, Myers coached track and field at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis for a few years before becoming a track and official herself.

She worked up the nerve to approach Dornfeld at an MIAC indoor meet in early 2020.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna say hi to him, he’s just a normal guy,’ ” Myers told me. “I thanked him for making my track seasons memorable. He said, ‘Let’s get connected and you can get officiating.’ I realized there aren’t many females and not many younger female officials.

“Dan let me know about the online certification and officials rules meetings and workshops. I went home and signed up right away.”

Dornfeld and Myers have worked together at several meets in the last two years, and they both will be part of the MSHSL state championships this week at St. Michael-Albertville High School. Myers will be the head umpire and Dornfeld, who for many years was the head meet official until his retirement after the 2021 state meet, will continue to assist as an official in the press box. 

“She’s such a nice kid,” Dornfeld said. “Well, she’s not really a kid. She’s a tremendous young lady. She was so kind. She said, ‘Your voice was always so calming.’ ”

Dornfeld has worked as a track and field and cross-country official since 1978, including many MSHSL state championships in both sports. For years he served as the MSHSL’s head rules interpreter and coordinator of officials for those sports, too.

Dornfeld is one of many former track and cross-country runners who were coached by Lefty Wright at St. Louis Park High School before going on to become coaches and/or officials themselves. Wright, who died in 2015 and was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 2016, was the MSHSL state cross-country meet director for 46 years and lead official at state track for 22 years.

A 1969 St. Louis Park graduate, Dornfeld was a young teacher who was coaching an elementary track team during a meet in Burnsville. The kids performed well and Dornfeld heard someone behind him say, “Nice job, coach.” It was Lefty Wright.

Much like Dornfeld would do with Myers decades later, Wright encouraged Dornfeld to become an official.

“When I was a senior in high school, we felt we were wronged on a relay team that was trying to go to state,” Dornfeld remembered. “I said, ‘I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to anybody else.’ Everything needed to be to the athletes’ benefit. Back then officiating was fairly crude. Lefty helped change that and I was able to be part of that.

“It’s the relationships you have, getting to see kids from junior high on.”

Those relationship include the one between the runner from Renville and the starter from St. Louis Park. Myers and Dornfeld posed for a photo together at this year’s Metro West Conference junior varsity championships. They stood next to a trackside lap counter, which carried the number 24; that’s how many years had elapsed since Dan was a starter during Jen’s high school career.

Myers said, “It was a huge honor for me to stand side-by-side with someone who has supported countless student-athletes and inspired some, like me, along the way to continue sharing my love of track and field.”

--If you are interested in becoming an MSHSL official or judge in any sport or activity, click this link for details:

--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] 

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