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Staff Reflection: Tim Leighton

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2024 - 9:49 AM

Staff Reflection: Tim Leighton

League Executive Staff member Tim Leighton shares the story of Mike Lovas, who not only serves the member schools through officiating, but also is a decorated soldier with the U.S. Army.

It had been a rewarding night of basketball officiating as Mike Lovas and his crew began their exit from Blaine High School earlier this season. As they were about to share a final farewell, Lovas brought the crew to a stunning halt when he shared:

“You just never know, I might get deployed again.”

He has already given so much of himself through his service that extends far beyond officiating two sports for the League’s member schools.

The native of Delafield, Wis., is a 20-year veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard where he currently serves as a Major and Engineer Officer. Since his enlistment in 2004, he has attended Officer Candidate School en route to earning his commission in 2007. If he is deployed again, it will be his fourth time in the service of our country. Two have been in Kuwait (Camp Virginia and Camp Arifjan) and the other at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.

In 2022, Lovas was the recipient of the Air Force Achievement Medal, in part, for providing support and base integration services for the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron during continuous threats of danger from an unmanned aerial attack and a single indirect rocket attack. His deployment came during Operation Inherent Resolve.

In 2023, Lovas was the recipient of the Bronze Star for his role in a combined joint task force during Operation Inherent Resolve for support during the coalition’s successful mission. In being honored, it was written: “His actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, and the United States Army.”

While the Iraq War officially ended on Dec. 15, 2011, Lovas continued his deployment into 2012 as part of the next phase, now called Operation New Dawn.

“The medals and awards show your work is appreciated, and is something my kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids can one day hold and know what I did,” Lovas said. “But being entrusted by this nation to lead its sons and daughters is one of the highest honors and greatest responsibilities.”

Lovas believes that there are correlations in serving our nation through the military and the member schools with his officiating.

“The two go hand-in-hand quite well actually, having to make quick decisions in high pressure situations,” he said. “Plus, it puts things in perspective. If I can stay calm while taking rocket attacks, I can stay calm while a coach or fan yells at me.”

With just returning home in early 2023, Lovas said there is “dwell time” before he is eligible to be deployed again.

“Serving in the military is an incredible honor,” Lovas said. “On April 30, it will mark 20 years for me. I’ll keep going after that. Just like in officiating, it's the people you work with that make it fun, enjoyable, and rewarding.”

When discussing the deployments, it was offered that the real MVP of the Lovas family is his wife, Melissa. The couple has four children: Ethan (14), Henry (10), Ruby (8) and Hudson (5). Ethan has experienced three deployments of his father, Henry and Ruby, two each, and Hudson once.

“Boy, isn’t that the truth,” Lovas said about Melissa’s role. “Saying goodbye to the family is never easy.”

While the longtime League football and basketball official is a stoic military officer, when asked, he enjoys sharing anecdotes of his service, and beams with pride as he enthusiastically engages to illustrate the role he serves.

When he is deployed, Lovas accents his military work by also providing service as a sports official. He worked in what is called the MWR League, an intramural league where military units and contractors can create a team.

Lovas said league play is a mixture of rules from the NFHS, NCAA and FIBA. During an end-of-season with a coalition partner with a team that spoke primarily Arabic, the officials had a crash course in the language so they could communicate to the players and coaches. While Lovas admits that the daily stresses of wartime efforts increased on-court intensity, the teams were competitive and similar makeup of players that a high school team might feature.

“And there were no parents to hurl insults at you,” Lovas said with a smile.

Lovas played basketball in grade school, but decided he could make a greater impact in other areas of the game. In middle school and high school, he would keep the scorebook, and in doing so, got to know the officials that worked the games.

“They said when I’m old enough, I’d make a good ref,” he said. “When the officials saw how engaged I was, they thought I’d be great in stripes.”

At the age of 16 in 1998, Lovas began officiating high school level basketball and volleyball when he became eligible with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. He also worked middle school basketball to gain experience with the rules and mechanics. He worked with many of those same officials that had recruited him and their mentoring has helped pave the way for success.

“I took a lot of heat in those years, especially in high school games, but was well mentored by (the veteran officials) and protected when it happened,” Lovas said.

His officiating resume expanded when he was a student at the University of Minnesota. He had reciprocity with the WIAA, and eventually, joined two Twin Cities-based officials association while also becoming a highly respected football official.  

“I now have the pride of watching my oldest son start umpiring baseball,” Lovas said. “And my 10-year-old, just last week, expressed interest in umpiring next summer, too.”

Serving in the military has been a great source of pride and commitment for Lovas, who touches on the experiences, friendships and skills learned that have guided him in all aspects of life.

“One of our Adjutant General's lines of effort is that as Citizen-Soldiers, we serve within the community, in and out of uniform,” Lovas said. “And what better way to do so than to give back to youth in sports, ensuring that games are well arbitrated. I received so much from being a high school athlete, and as an official, I can make sure others have a quality experience, too.”  



Mike Lovas enlisted in the military in 2004 and earned his commission in 2007.

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Mike Lovas is grateful for his wife, Melissa, who oversees the family support system while he is deployed.

Mike Lovas 3

Lovas, third from right, is proud and honored to have served in the U.S. Army for nearly two decades.

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While deployed, Lovas officiated in a basketball league for military units and contractors. The league had playing rules that were a combination of rules from the NFHS, NCAA and FIBA.

“The medals and awards show your work is appreciated, and is something my kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids can one day hold and know what I did. But being entrusted by this nation to lead its sons and daughters is one of the highest honors and greatest responsibilities.”
U.S. Army Major Mike Lovas

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