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MSHSL holds large presence at NASO Summit

Nickleby a featured presenter during summer gathering of officials

Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2020 - 8:24 PM

On game days, Jason Nickleby, the Minnesota State High School League’s Coordinator of Officials, performs his avocation in front of tens of thousands of fans during the Big Ten Conference football season. He works his craft at the Center Judge position with poise and calm to ensure the rules of the game are properly applied and managed.

This week, Nickleby is the focus of attention, too, but in a professional capacity during the National Association of Sports Officials annual Summit. The meeting, originally scheduled to be held in person in Mobile, Ala., is being presented in a digital platform. The Minnesota State High School League is the only high school state association to be part of the event’s prestigious Exhibit Hall, which includes the National Hockey League and Fox 40.

Nickleby, a recent annual presenter, this week is speaking to a virtual audience that numbers more than 10,000 officials and administrators. The League caught up with Nickleby to share his experiences this week.

Q: What kind of preparation does it take to speak to a group this size?

Nickleby: It is interesting because preparing for a presentation for a live audience versus a virtual one is very different.  When you are in a virtual format, you need to be cognizant of the various learning styles and technology capabilities that are out there.  When you reach 10,000 attendees, we as presenters need to cater to the most basic of needs from a learning standpoint.  We need to expect that viewers will be new to officiating or new to technology.  We tried to do that by really drilling down to the basics of mechanics and positioning.  For live and virtual presentations, we need to remember that the NASO Summit is primarily meant for youth and high school officials.  While stories and philosophies from the NCAA or the professional ranks can be helpful, presenters need to focus on the majority of viewers and what needs they have for their learning experiences.

Q: What are some of the topics you are presenting?

Nickleby: The Summit is broken down into three parts.  There are presentations from individuals and groups with fresh content that focuses on general officiating topics.  The second part has presentations from the Vault.  Highly engaging or popular sessions from past Summits are showcased here.  The final part is sport specific mechanics, positioning and philosophy breakdowns.  I have presented at past Summits and two of those are showcased in the Vault including Celebrating Great Calls in 2016 and Training in Transition in 2019. On the sport-specific side, I broke down running play mechanics, goal line mechanics and scrimmage kick mechanics for high school football with Fred Bryan, NFL umpire; Mike Cannon, Big Ten Referee; and Mike Spanier, retired NFL line judge.  All of these outstanding officials are from Minnesota and contribute greatly to the Minnesota and national officiating industry.

Q: How challenging is it to be a presenter in a digital format versus in-person?

Nickleby: It comes down to knowing your audience.  Presenting is just like officiating.  Stick to the basics, and you will be just fine.  You want to be professional, but as my dad used to say about projects, “It is not a cathedral.”  His point was, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of excellence.  Our presentations will never be perfect, but they can be excellent.  Just relax and be as authentic as you can be.

Q: During a game, you’ve got many sets of eyes in the stadium and a television audience focused on you and your crewmates. What do you do to remain poised and focused during a game, as well as to a virtual audience of this size?

Nickleby: Basics.  Even though we are talking about bigger players and crowds, it is still a football game.  We have core responsibilities we need to focus on.  Officiate your area/space to the best of your ability and transition to other potential problem areas.  This takes experience to know when to transition.  However, even the most experienced officials run into trouble when we lack the discipline to stick to our basic positioning, mechanics and philosophies.  That is the focus when we are presenting virtually or in-person.  We tell officials that you want to be the best you can be at your position or level.  Don’t officiate for others and you don’t want to be something you are not.  Dance with who brought ya! That is a less-than-fancy way of saying, stick to the mechanics and communication skills that got you to this point.  That will serve you well on the field or on the stage.

Q: What are some of the takeaways when you attend the NASO Summit?

Nickleby: The best takeaway from the Summit is the incredible relationships that are built with the attendees.  We are missing out on that this year.  There is not another place in officiating where professional officials and youth officials can build camaraderie by participating in the common platform that the Summit provides.  There is truly nothing like it and I would always recommend that officials try to attend at least one in their career; they will not regret it.

Q: Are there any new League officiating initiatives or programs as we start a new school year?

Nickleby: COVID-19 is presenting many challenges across an array of League programs.  Officiating is not immune from that.  Recruitment and retention are a focus of the officiating program  every year.  However, this has taken on new importance during this upcoming school year.  One initiative for recruitment is the MSHSL Officiating Recruitment Forum.  Experienced officials will meet virtually with prospective officials three times per year to discuss next steps on becoming an official, the benefits of officiating and an Association Round Table.  A spin-off from that initiative is the Minnesota Officiating Voices project.  Experienced officials from Minnesota describe their journeys in officiating and why you should just us.  Information on both of these initiatives can be viewed in the Exhibitor Hall on and on  From a retention standpoint, we are focusing on building relationships and consistency of mechanics across the state.  To this end, we will increase virtual training options via Zoom for every sport throughout the season, not just the typical preseason timeframe.  We plan to continue with these options in the future, even when we are allowed in-person training options.


"There is not another place in officiating where professional officials and youth officials can build camaraderie by participating in the common platform that the Summit provides."
MSHSL Coordinator of Officials Jason Nickleby
Jason Nickleby has served as the League's Coordinator of Officials since 2016

Jason Nickleby has served as the League's Coordinator of Officials since 2015.

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