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Staff Reflection: Jason Nickleby

Posted: Monday, January 9, 2023 - 1:42 PM

Jason Nickleby, Coordinator of Officials

League Staff member Jason Nickleby shares a reflection on the pivotal and enthusiastic role played by Brett Carlson in the creation of forums designed to recruit and retain contest officials.

A phone call came in on a January day in 2019. The gentleman on the other end of the line could not contain his excitement. It went something like this:

“Jason, we need to hold an officiating recruitment event for college kids!  The money-making potential is immense.  Let’s get together and make it happen!”

My reply was equally enthusiastic:

“OK, OK, you’ve got me. I’m in!”

To those that knew Brett Carlson, the former Community Education Director at North Branch Area Schools, it should come as no surprise that something as daunting as recruitment of new game officials was met with unmatched enthusiasm and positivity. Over the course of the next few months, Brett and I met several times to develop the agenda, content and presenters for an in-person recruitment event hosted by Activities Director Bryan Munter at Tartan High School.  Brett was so excited; anyone who was involved could not help but feel that we were going to have the best recruiting event ever held. 

“Hi guys!!  GAME DAY!!  LET'S ROLL!!!   

I plan to be a Tartan about 5:30 pm.  I will have sign-in sheets, clipboards, and pens so we can record names. 

I will send one final email to ADs and tweet about the event here this morning.  

Pizza will arrive around 6:15 pm or so.  She's bringing water too.  

We had 30 prospective officials that night.  Brett was crushed.  He was hoping for 1,000, but that is him. Brett was always shooting for the moon and excellence. But, as Becky Leuer, the former AD at North Branch, reminded Brett, that is 30 more than we had yesterday. So, we pressed on as the work in recruiting officials is never finished.

While the global pandemic came and threw a wrench into everything, it did not dampen Brett’s enthusiasm and spirit.

His forward thinking:

“Wondering about a Zoom Officials Night?  We could pick a night, send out some communication to schools, kids would email you or me for the link.  The presentation would be just sharing more or less what we did last night?  We have no spring sport schedules, choir or band concerts, or senior awards nights to schedule around.  Truly could have state-wide participation.  Should we give it a shot?”

The League’s Officiating Recruitment Forum, presented in partnership with the leadership of the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, was born. Almost three years later, we have enjoyed hosting the forums on Zoom to reach more perspective officials then would have ever been possible at in-person meetings, and Brett was instrumental in making it happen. When we got bogged down with the day-to-day challenges, Brett was always there to lift us up and keep us on the path to making the forums the best presentation and connectivity to new officials that we can provide.

Brett was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in 2021. His support and positivity, however, never wavered. The League held our most recent forum in October and Brett was right there to support us as his body was in an extremely difficult state.

“Hi All - Fired up for this meeting!!  Always good stuff!!

Thank you so much!!”

Brett passed away on Nov. 26, 2022.

His memorial shone an incredible spotlight on the connectivity and relationships that League activities and athletics provide. Every speaker had a unique story about Brett and accentuated how he made each of us better in everything we accomplished together. They left us with the invitation to “Be the Story.”  We all have a role to play in advancing the ideals of education-based activities and athletics.  No one demonstrated that better than Brett Carlson.

Certainly, there is a physical void without him here. However, his presence is still alive and I will continue to beat the officiating recruitment and retention drum with the enthusiasm that Brett lived daily. 

Before we held that first forum, Brett and I met for breakfast at Key’s Restaurant in Woodbury. We came up with the initial plan and we were excited about the future. He didn’t know what challenges were in store for him, but he lived each day like it was it was going to be his last. As shared by a friend at his funeral, he paid for his meal anonymously because that was who he was. He then proceeded to a meeting of Metro East Conference Activities Directors just across the restaurant. He seized momentary control of the meeting to share his passion on the recruitment of new game officials. 

As we look to 2023 and beyond, let’s work to recruit new officials, in part, to Brett’s honor. No doubt, he will be right there behind us all the way.

Brett Carlson

Brett Carlson, the former Community Education Director in the North Branch Area Schools District, was an enthusiastic educator that proudly promoted the values of education-based activities. He passed away on Nov. 26, 2022 after a battle with cancer.

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