Norris Honoree Continues Setting Standards on Track, as Mentor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 19, 2021

A staple of Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason track & field events for more than three decades, Grand Rapids’ Lewis Clingman continues to serve as an easily-recognizable host of Regionals and Finals in that sport for teams from all over the Lower Peninsula each spring.

But his tireless service to school sports stretches across the entire school year and is rooted in 53 years as an MHSAA-registered game official, and those contributions are being celebrated with his selection for this year’s MHSAA Vern L. Norris Award.

The Norris Award is presented annually to a veteran official who has been active in a local officials association, has mentored other officials, and has been involved in officials’ education. It is named for Vern L. Norris, who served as executive director of the MHSAA from 1978-86 and was well-respected by officials on the state and national levels.

Clingman was to be honored with his Norris Award this month at the MHSAA’s 41st Officials’ Awards & Alumni Banquet. However, the banquet was canceled for the second-straight year due to safety concerns because of COVID-19. He instead will accept his award as part of a virtual banquet to be published on the MHSAA Website and social media feeds later this spring.

Clingman first registered as an MHSAA official for the 1968-69 school year, to work track & field, basketball, baseball and softball. He has registered for track & field throughout his 53-year officiating tenure, and added cross country during the 2009-10 school year. He has officiated nine cross country and four track & field MHSAA Finals.

But that just scratches the surface of his many contributions. He is noted by many as a mentor – 2018 Norris Award honoree Jill Baker-Cooley that year specifically recognized Clingman among those who assisted her in getting started in the avocation. He also has been a catalyst of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Track & Field Finals’ two-decade run in the Grand Rapids area, where as a meet manager he continues to schedule and organize officials for all four locations of the season-ending series.

“I love being with the kids. It’s for the kids. And that’s why we’re here,” Clingman said. “The camaraderie with the other professionals that I’m with, and just watching the successes that go on. … But I love being with the kids. My kids are all gone; they’re all over the country, my grandkids are around the country. This is a great way to substitute (by serving) the kids who are here.

“If you’re in this for ego, you’re in the wrong business. And if you’re in this to make a lot of money and retire, you’re in the wrong business. When you think about it, 50 years of officiating, there’s a lot of (officials) who don’t last that long – they don’t because they’re not in the right business. But there’s a lot of people in this area, that are officiating, have been officiating, who will be (longtime officials) because they do it for the right reason.”

Clingman is a longtime member of the Association of Track Officials of Michigan (ATOM) and has received its Bob Bloomer Award, Bernie Abrams President’s Leadership Award, Art Jevert/Bruce Jacobs Distinguished Service Award, and three times its Past President’s Service Award. He also is a member of the West Michigan Officials Association.

Clingman also has served more than 40 years as an administrator, teacher and coach. He began his career at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Comstock Park, serving as middle school athletic director and basketball coach while also coaching football and track at Comstock Park High School. He served as head boys basketball and track coach and football assistant at Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills during the second half of the 1970s and after also serving as head basketball coach for five seasons at St. Joseph’s Prep in Grand Rapids.

He moved on to serve as athletic director at East Grand Rapids High School, then after a brief stint in the business world began a 20-year tenure teaching middle school for Grand Rapids Public Schools before retiring from GRPS in 2011. During that time he became the spring event manager at Houseman Field, where at its peak he hosted on average a combined nine high school and college track meets per week. He also during his time at GRPS served as an assistant coach in football, basketball and track at Grand Rapids Catholic Central. He joined the staff at Catholic Central seven years ago and continues to serve as event manager and assistant to the athletic director.

Clingman was added to the Grand Rapids Catholic Central Wall of Honor in 2016 and has received a GRPS service award.

“Lew has been someone who has given tirelessly, most of all of his time, over the years to really benefit not just officiating but school sports as a whole,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “The work Lew has done, specifically recruiting and training track & field officials – providing for a sport we don’t think of very often as having those needs – and the work he’s done with ATOM has just been incredible. There’s been nobody more important to the track & field and cross country officiating community than Lew Clingman.”

Clingman graduated from Grand Rapids Catholic Central in 1965 and with bachelor’s degrees in history, physical education and English from Aquinas College in 1969. He earned a master’s in secondary administration from Michigan State University in 1978.

In addition to his continued service to Catholic Central, Clingman serves on the Aquinas Hall of Fame Committee and Alumni Association board, and on the Grand Rapids Public Schools committee for Houseman Field renovation. He also serves as an official for local Special Olympics events.

Clingman and his wife Cindy have been married 52 years. They have four children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Previous recipients of the Norris Award:

1992 – Ted Wilson, East Detroit
1993 – Fred Briggs, Burton
1994 – Joe Brodie, Flat Rock
1995 – Jim Massar, Flint
1996 – Jim Lamoreaux, St. Ignace
1997 – Ken Myllyla, Escanaba
1998 – Blake Hagman, Kalamazoo
1999 – Richard Kalahar, Jackson
2000 – Barb Beckett, Traverse City; Karl Newingham, Bay City
2001 – Herb Lipschultz, Kalamazoo
2002 – Robert Scholie, Hancock
2003 – Ron Nagy, Hazel Park
2004 – Carl Van Heck, Grand Rapids 
2005 – Bruce Moss, Alma
2006 – Jeanne Skinner, Grand Rapids
2007 – Terry Wakeley, Grayling
2008 – Will Lynch, Honor
2009 – James Danhoff, Richland
2010 – John Juday Sr., Petoskey
2011 – Robert Williams, Redford
2012 – Lyle Berry, Rockford
2013 – Tom Minter, Okemos
2014 – Hugh R. Jewell, West Bloomfield
2015 – Sam Davis, Lansing 
2016 – Linda Hoover, Marshall
2017 – Michael Gentry, Shelby Township
2018 – Jill Baker-Cooley, Big Rapids
2019 – David Buck, St. Joseph
2020 – Hugh Matson, Saginaw

High school game officials with 20, 30, 40, 45 and 50 years of service also are being honored with service awards. Twenty-three officials with 50 years of service are being honored, along with 49 officials with 45 years. A 40-year award is being presented to 40 officials. In addition, 98 officials with 30 years and 181 officials with 20 years of experience are being honored.

20, 30, 40, 45 & 50-YEAR OFFICIALS

The officials on this list are receiving their 20, 30, 40, 45 or 50-year service awards.


Ada - Carl J. Cress 
Alto - Joseph E. Geroux 
Alto - Jeff A. Harp 
Ann Arbor - Dana P. Fuller 
Ann Arbor - Thomas R. Sumner 
Armada - David R. Coenen 

Battle Creek - Douglas R. Jones 
Battle Creek - Steven C. Peine 
Battle Creek - Ronald D. Stewart 
Battle Creek - Pete A. Zapata 
Bay City - Robert A. Bluhm Jr.
Bay City - Brad G. Champagne 
Bay City - William R. Walter 
Belleville - Rodney M. Sullens 
Belmont - Duncan Powell 
Berkley - Tony A. Beaulieu 
Breckenridge - Gerald W. Saunders 
Brighton - Melissa M. Flores 
Brockway - Dennis L. Gerlach 
Brownstown - Larry D. Pierce 
Brownstown - Michael V. Roach 
Brownstown Township - Joseph P. Ciaravino 
Brownstown Township - Franco Gonzalez Jr.
Bruce Township - Nicholas G. Nowakowski 
Burt - William J. Carstens 
Burt - Ryan D. Galloway 

Cadillac - Steve W. Fuhst 
Caledonia - Daniel A. Stockel 
Canton - Robert L. Altizer 
Canton - Steve Nesovski 
Cheboygan - Gail N. Scharffe III
Chesaning - Leonard L. Strait Jr.
Clinton Township - Arthur D. Jones 
Clinton Township - Rachel M. Krone 
Clinton Township - David T. Ryall 
Coldwater - Scott D. Galloway 
Crystal Falls - Thomas P. Courchaine 

Davison - Joseph Whitman 
Dearborn - Joseph D. Corso 
Dearborn Heights - Stan M. Karchefske 
Deford - Larry R. Barrons 
Detroit - Michael G. Byrd 
Detroit - Brian K. Smith 
Detroit - Gaylon B. Williams 
DeWitt - Quentin V. Alverson 
Dexter - Robert J. Leadley 
Dowagiac - Jim R. Nate 
Drummond Island - Jack K. Miles 

Empire - Charles M. Leduc 
Essexville - Gary P. Schulz 

Flint - Matt S. Kateman 
Flushing - Todd J. Willis 
Frankenmuth - Mark C. Jarlock 
Freeland - Jerry J. Haines 
Fremont - John H. Pell 

Garden City - Lawrence P. Mills 
Grand Haven - John F. Jakubiec 
Grand Rapids - Steven E. Hedke 
Grand Rapids - Michael James 
Grand Rapids - Kevin B. Krauss 
Grand Rapids - Timothy J. Likens 
Grand Rapids - Megan J. Pell 
Grand Rapids - Thomas D. Siver 
Grand Rapids - Ronald D. Masters 
Grandville - Richard J. Funk 
Grandville - Troy A. Ungrey 
Grawn - Kenneth C. Koehler 
Grayling - Timothy J. Swope 
Greenville - Martin A. Taylor 
Grosse Ile - Raymond D. Geist 
Grosse Pointe Farms - William C. Cunningham 

Hastings - Andrew L. Discher 
Hastings - Pattrick M. Jansens 
Hillsdale - Keven D. Wolcott 
Holland - Jeffrey A. Carper 
Holland - George W. Kantz Jr.
Holland - Michael B. Torrey 
Holt - Troy Gladstone 
Hubbard Lake - Gary A. Medland 
Hudsonville - John D. Wiercinski 

Iron Mountain - William D. Edberg 
Iron River - Robert P. Busakowski 
Ironwood - Don J. Cvengros 

Jackson - Nathan A. Gross 
Jackson - Scott S. Maurer

Kalamazoo - Timothy J. Eastman 
Kalamazoo - Janelle B. Holland 
Kalamazoo - Robert A. King 
Kalamazoo - Deborah L. Noble 
Kalamazoo - Robert V. Wagley 
Kalamazoo - Keith Williams 
Kaleva - James K. Frizzell Sr.
Kent City - Rick D. Stockhill 
Kentwood - Jermaine C. Jennings 
Kentwoood - Donell R. Jones 
Kingsford - Nicholas L. Gayan

Lake Orion - Michael J. Ley 
Lansing - Gary N. Simpson 
Lansing - Anthony D. Winston 
Lenox Township - John J. Essenmacher 
Leslie - Robert V. Barrett 
Leslie - Jerry E. Miller 
Linwood - Brad T. Wehner 
Livonia - Ken Lauer 
Lowell - Mark T. Bradburn 
Lowell - Paul P. Durkee 
Lowell - Chris T. German 

Macomb - Gordon Machleit 
Macomb Township - Ronald K. Jacobs 
Madison Heights - Amy Bessler 
Madison Heights - David B. McPhail 
Manistee - Curtis J. Mathieu 
Marcellus - Wade L. Bent 
Marinette - Robert Deschaine Jr.
Marysville - Kevin T. Leeman 
Metamora - Noelle R. Cole 
Monroe - Kevin J. Holden 
Montrose - Mark A. Emmendorfer 
Mount Pleasant - Roger L. Lintemuth 
Mt. Morris - Robert P. Emery 
Mullett Lake - Alan J. Granger 
Muskegon Heights - Ronald S. Jenkins

Nashville - Keith H. Jones 
Negaunee - Christopher O. Sholander 
New Baltimore - Mark W. Masters 
North Muskegon - Michael J. Belmonte 
Northville - Mark J. Parrinello

Oak Park - Mario Blocton 
Oakland - Robert L. Zbytowski 
Ontonagon - Jeffery M. Rule 
Owosso - Brian L. Mendyk

Paw Paw - Alton J. Laupp 
Paw Paw - Rick Jay Mitchell 
Perrinton - Dan L. Sweet 
Pontiac - John Cantu 
Pontiac - Vance L. Hardiman 
Portland - Adam J. Schrauben 
Portland - Anthony J. Costello

Ravenna - Ted F. May 
Remus - John S. Mayer 
Rochester - Barbara Gemellaro 
Rockford - Michael C. VanDyke 
Rockford - John A. Woods 
Roscommon - David E. Hansen 
Royal Oak - Perry A. Brunetti

Saginaw - Patrick A. Campbell 
Saginaw - Felipe Echeverria 
Saginaw - Thomas A. Lewis 
Saginaw - Daniel A. McIntyre 
Saginaw - Barb A. Streeter 
Saginaw - Jason R. Wildey 
Sebewaing - Cheri L. Nitz 
Sebewaing - Holly A. Roth-Guza 
Sheridan - James Forton 
South Lyon - Christopher R. Duprey 
South Lyon - John C. Lindeman 
Southfield - Eric V. Lee 
St. Helen - Donald W. Clements
St. Johns - Chris H. Hyzer 
St. Johns - Penny L. Keener 
St. Joseph - Ronald L. Scudder 
Stanton - Frank P. Marinello 
Sturgis - Jean E. LaClair 
Swartz Creek - Bill A. Dean 
Swartz Creek - Dennis D. Simnitch 
Swartz Creek - Derick R. Woodworth

Temperance - Kevin V. Brown 
Three Rivers - Rebecca M. Neff 
Three Rivers - Ed M. Smith 
Traverse City - Dave R. Jones 
Trenton - Eric J. Hoerle 
Troy - Darrin Millar 

Wakefield - Paul E. Harley 
Warren - Roman R. Jablonski 
Washington - Douglas H. Lutkenhoff Sr.
Waterford - Dwayne E. Little 
Westland - Sharvon M. McNab 
White Lake - David J. Schoenegge 
White Lake - Keith M. Verellen 
Williamston - Aaron L. Porter 
Woodland - Kevin J. Duits


Adrian - Michael K. Stevenson Jr.
Allegan - Kevin Lawrence Gilligan 
Allen Park - James C. Marker 
Ann Arbor - Edward J. Mcconnell 

Battle Creek - Cary P. Grant 
Battle Creek - Roger L. Steele 
Battle Creek - Chad D. Jackson 
Bay City - Laurence E. Jacobs III
Belding - Francis Mason 
Bellevue - Candice J. Whitney 
Benton Harbor - Robert A. Edelberg Sr.
Benton Harbor - Larry Edwards 
Bessemer - Sandra J. Muzzy 
Beulah - Tammy A. Sedlar-Wing 
Bridgman - Paul J. Pantaleo

Cadillac - Penny L. McDonald 
Caledonia - David J. Driscoll 
Cass City - David W. Hoard 
Charlevoix - Dennis A. Phelps 
Charlevoix - Randy K. Tarzwell 
Clark Lake - Mike J. Jordon 
Clinton Township - Robert M. Cichowski 
Concord - Michael G. Ogden

Dansville - Charles H. Barrett 
Detroit - Darlene J. Barber 
Detroit - Kathleen S. Bridge 
Detroit - Michael J. Dobson 
Dowagiac - Randall G. Gross Sr.

East Jordan - Norman J. Vogt 
Eastpointe - Jerry VandeVyver 

Flat Rock - Theodore M. Wegienka 
Flint - Michael D. Moreau 
Freeland - Thomas E. Behmlander 

Gaylord - David M. Becker 
Grand Haven - Scott A. Vanderberg 
Grand Rapids - Gene S. Debbaudt 
Grand Rapids - Thomas M. Farley 
Grand Rapids - Chris LaMange 
Grand Rapids - Scott L. Smith 
Grand Rapids - Mark D. Swets 
Grosse Pointe Farms - Robert B. Conway 

Hartford - Jason D. Meachum 
Hastings - Stephen J. Laubaugh 
Hillsdale - Scott E. Chase 
Holland - Steven S. Bredeweg 
Holland - William L. Lawton 
Holland - Raymond G. Thomas Jr.
Holland - Mark A. Volkers 
Holt - John D. Greathouse

Iron Mountain - Edward D. St. Arnauld 
Iron River - Curtis J. Olexa 

Jenison - Laurie A. DeWitt 

Kalamazoo - Chris L. Grimes 
Kaleva - Dixie L. Hoeh 
Kalkaska - Diane L. Buttermore

Laurium - Matthew Vertin 
Lincoln - Tim Paul Somers 
Livonia - John P. Morris

Macomb - Douglas J. Rizzi 
Mattawan - Michael W. Walters 
Midland - John W. Day 
Monroe - Douglas Boylan 
Mount Pleasant - Brian J. Gould 
Mount Pleasant - John Straight 
Muskegon - Clinton A. Todd Jr.

Northville - Clinton C. Lawrence 
Northville - Aaron M. Woodbury 
Norton Shores - Jim P. Adrian 

Ottawa Lake - Richard L. Deisler 

Plainwell - Pete J. Boyd 
Portage - Kevin L. Haun 
Portland - Brian D. Russell

Redford - Anthony Johnson 
Reed City - Earl G. Kage 
Rock - Robert J. VanDamme 
Rockford - Brooks McIntyre 
Rogers City - Mary E. Fairbanks 
Roscommon - Brian W. Reicks 
Roseville - Glenn A. Jablonowski 
Royal Oak - Raymond L. Smith

Saginaw - Cornelius Walker Jr.
Sault Ste. Marie - Murray J. Meehan 
Shelby Township - John M. Rakowski 
Southfield - Wallace L. Whitfield 
St. Joseph - Kenneth R. Nolte 
St. Joseph - Michael J. Petlick 
Sterling Heights - Robert M. Iwasko 
Stevensville - Howard L. Jackson 
Swartz Creek - Richard E. Hunt 

Warren - Steve C. Miller 
Waterford - Michael Blom 
Wayland - Robert J. Wolf 
Webberville - Troy B. Perkins 
West Branch - Douglas B. Grezeszak 
White Lake - Charles E. Johnson Sr.
Wyandotte - Robert C. Wolsek 
Wyoming - Carol L. Ross

Zeeland - Gretchen J. Galloway


Allen Park - James C. Bales 

Battle Creek - David L. Eubank 
Battle Creek - Edward B. Smith

Canton - Jeanne L. Martin 
Canton - John O. Wright Jr.
Constantine - Marge Caid

Davison - Mitchell J. Olejniczak 
Deerfield - William P. Gomoluch 
Detroit - Robert W. Kirkland 
DeWitt - Mark A. Robinson

Evart - Tom W. Adams

Flushing - Gerald Marenkewicz

Grand Blanc - Curtis L. Williams 
Grand Rapids - Michael J. Duffy 
Grand Rapids - Thomas D. Shearer 
Grand Rapids - Jeffrey A. Wierzbicki 
Grosse Pointe Park - Kelvin W. Wise 
Grosse Pointe Shores - James L. Valliere

Holt - Lee Rodgers 
Howell - Jim A. Murray

Ionia - Michael S. Antonides 
Ionia - Mike A. Fuller 
Iron Mountain - John N. Meyer

Kentwood - Rick S. Hazel

Lansing - Mark S. Ditsworth 
Lapeer - Gordon L. Bade 
Livonia - Brian R. Dinsmore 
Ludington - John F. Shears

Madison Heights - Wilford J. Laveirge 
Maple City - Joseph F. Dechow 
Mayville - Clare L. Kreger 
Muskegon - Onesiphorus B. Burrel Sr.
Muskegon - Melville B. Foster 
Muskegon - Todd R. Geerlings

New Hudson - Dennis E. Evans 
Norton Shores - Randall S. Martinus

Okemos - Michael J. Maisner

Plymouth - William R. Baumgart 
Portage - Jerry A. Mais

Quincy - Robert C. Coward

Rogers City - Roger M. Wenzel 
Roscommon - William A. Root

Smiths Creek - James D. Evans 
Spring Lake - Robert L. Mol 
Sterling Heights - Philip J. Lieblang

Traverse City - Dennis W. Hall 
Troy - Jerald J. Sosnowski

West Branch - Matt Emerick 
Wixom - Patrick L. Beagle

Zeeland - Linda S. Schmidt


Baraga - James L. Holm 
Bloomfield Hills - Dennis F. King 
Bloomfield Hills - W. Jack Morris 
Bowling Green - Thomas L. Ford 

Cadillac - William J. Allen 
Caledonia - George B. Watterson 
Clarkston - Dale A. Kutchey 
Clinton Township - Dennis G. Clark

Essexville - William L. Post

Fairgrove - Jerry L. Lasceski 
Flat Rock - Robert J. Brodie 
Fort Gratiot - Julius A. Traub 
Freeland - Kim D. Heisler

Gaylord - George-Tom T. Johnson 
Gaylord - Kevin M. Leary 
Gladstone - Wayne W. Marshall 
Gladwin - Michael E. Steinkraus 
Grand Rapids - Patricia A. Treman

Hancock - John D. Vaara 
Hermansville - Robert J. Maule 
Highland - Evan H. Lehto 
Holland - Mary F. Colenbrander 
Holland - Thomas J. Kruithoff 
Holland - Barbara A. Shelley 
Holland - David W. Smits

Iron Mountain - Jerry Reddinger

Jackson - Ardis Jill Conat

Kaleva - David K. Hoeh

Lansing - Karen L. Yanna 
Livonia - Laura J. Alves

Manitou Beach - Allen L. Schuch 
McMillan - Cliff J. Fossitt 
Michigan Center - Daniel C. Bentschneider

Newberry - Thomas J. Rahilly 
Northville - Edward K. Gabrys 
Norton Shores - Duane A. VandenHeuvel

Oconto - Peter C. Pericolosi

Pontiac - Jerome C. Chaumley 
Portage - Frank S. Gawkowski 
Portage - Timothy J. Osterman 
Posen - Kenneth Wozniak

Saginaw - John C. Flukes 
Saginaw - John E. Oczepek 
Sturgis - Raymond Martin 
Swartz Creek - David J. Sutton

Three Rivers - Kim D. Losik 
Traverse City - Michael J. Muldowney 
Troy - James J. Stone

Wyoming - Sandra K. Noto 


Battle Creek - Richard L. Randle 
Bessemer - Henry E. Aapala

Caro - John H. Amend 
Comstock Park - Riley S. Swinehart

Delton - Gregory W. Nikitas 
Detroit - Richard L. Miller

Grand Rapids - James J. Aalderink 
Grand Rapids - George H. Kniola

Holt - John S. Malatinsky 
Howell - John S. Hardy

Jackson - Ozzie L. Hashley

Macomb - Chet W. Boss 
Marcellus - Deborah L. Schug 
Mesick - Paul G. Williams

Owosso - Paul A. Chaffee 
Owosso - Edwin L. Rappuhn

Plymouth - Don A. Vogt 
Prudenville - Robert J. Studer

Spring Lake - Joseph G. Popiel

Tecumseh - Nancy A. Hebert 
Troy - Mike Luttenberger

Warren - Collette C. Hallberg 
Warren - William Upina

Retired NHL-er Back on Ice to Answer Call - By Making Them

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

March 16, 2023

The most accomplished skater on the ice during Friday’s triple-overtime MHSAA Division 1 Semifinal hockey thriller between Hartland and Brighton was not wearing the school colors of either team.

In front of a packed house at Plymouth’s USA Hockey Arena, referee Bryan Smolinski was in stripes, just like the rest of his officiating crew.

In his former life, he pulled on plenty of sweaters before lacing up the skates. That happens when one logs more than 1,000 games, tallies nearly 300 goals (274) and close to 400 assists (377) with eight teams spanning a 15-year playing career in the National Hockey League.

So, how did the 52-year-old former star player find himself on the ice last weekend as one of the referees for the pinnacle weekend of this high school season? Good question, even for the man known as “Smoke” during his playing days.

“I was working in youth development programs a few years back and reached out to some Michigan guys I had connections with about other ways to help the game,” Smolinski said. “I called Kevin May just to chat and asked, ‘Hey, how’s your reffing going?’ He said, ‘You know, we’re down a little bit,’ then said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I said, ‘Not a chance,’” Smolinski laughed.

Never Say Never

May persisted, imploring his friend to skate with him during a Fall league at Cranbook in Bloomfield Hills. After eight weeks, once a week, Smolinski had a revelation.

“I’m like, ‘I’m kind of diggin’ this,’” Smolinski said “So, I did all the testing, and the educational part of it, and I really enjoyed it. I got with Danny (DiCristofaro) and his group, and he put me in as much as he could, and I really started to get my feet wet.”

Smolinski, a retired NHL standout, communicates with the Bulldogs' bench.DiCristofaro is the assigner and referee-in-chief for the MHSAA’s Northeast Hockey Referees Association, and he has seen Smolinski’s growth first-hand.

“Obviously he’s got great instincts and a feel for the game, along with a wealth of experience, all of which has allowed him to climb the ladder quickly,” said DiCristofaro. “It’s been a joy to watch his growth as an official.”

Fast forward to last Friday, and there were Smolinski and May sharing duties as referees during the MHSAA Semifinal with linesmen Michael Andrews and Thomas Robbins.

In between, there has been a learning curve that still continues, but the jump to officiating was not quite as daunting as his introduction to the NHL.

“I was scared to death. My first game was against Mario Lemieux. I’m in the old Boston Garden and now I’m playing against these guys and it’s their job, and they’re out there trying to make a living,” Smolinski recalled.

The emotions were not running nearly as frenzied for his first game as an MHSAA official, obviously, yet respect came in a different form.

“I couldn’t pick the puck up, I was breathing heavily; it was Kevin and me doing a two-man game in Brighton,” Smolinski recalled. “There were a few high-end kids playing, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m dying here.’ You know, there’s no training for that first time.”

What that experience did, however, was revitalize Smolinski in a new way. His playing career is well documented, not only in the NHL, but around Michigan. He enjoyed an honor-laden career at Michigan State University from 1989-93 before joining the Boston Bruins (who had drafted him three years earlier) at the end of the ’93 NHL campaign. Even after his final season, with Montreal in 2007-08, he stayed in the game via men’s leagues, or coaching his son, Max.

Smolinski and his wife, Julie, have three daughters: Ashtyn (22), Jojo (16) and Rylen (12), along with Max, whom dad coached for seven years including during a national championship run with a Little Caesars U15 team in 2019. Max, 19, is now playing collegiately at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

So, for Smolinski, officiating offers a new chapter.

“Reffing brought back ... I wouldn’t say love of the game, because that’s always been there; it’s a different side of enjoying the game now. I have no horse in the race, my son’s off to college, my daughters are doing their thing; I wanted to find something new in the game,” Smolinski said. “I’ve coached, and I don’t want to do that. I found this, and I’ve stuck with it.”

Old College Ties

One of the great benefits of athletics at any level are the friendships made. For two kids who met in their first years on the MSU campus and forged a bond that lasts to this day, it’s amazing how their careers reached the pinnacle and have now come full circle.

Wes McCauley, an MSU teammate, is one of Smolinski’s best friends. After numerous years in the minor leagues, McCauley, like his friend, made it to the NHL. But McCauley made it as an official, working his first NHL game in 2003, when Smolinski was nearing the end of his playing career.

Smolinski keeps watch during game play. Their games lined up on just a few occasions in the NHL, and the two lobbied hard to have McCauley work Smolinski’s 1,000th career game in his final season with the Canadiens in 2007-08. The request, sadly, was denied by the league.

On the rare occasions when the friends did share the same ice, less than a handful by Smolinski’s count, it was McCauley who was forced to rebuff any attempts at fraternization. It’s just part of an official’s edict.

“For both of us, it was amazing; it was just great,” Smolinski said. “I’d say, ‘Hey man what’s up?’ and he says, ‘Can’t talk.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean, we talk all the time.’ Again, he’s like, ‘Can’t talk, get away from me.’ You know, it was just business.”

McCauley then reached the 1,000-game plateau himself in 2018 and is still going strong as a regular selection for playoff duties with nine Stanley Cup Finals assignments, including last year.

 So, it should have been natural for Smolinski to go to his old friend immediately for officiating pointers once he joined the ranks, right? Well, maybe not immediately.

“I talk to Wes all the time, but I actually hid it from him right out of the gate because I didn’t want to take his razzing. Eventually it got out, and he was loving it. He started sending me whistles and visors and pants,” Smolinski said, grinning. “And none of it fit, you know, because I’m older and fatter, and he’s so damn skinny. So, I still had to go out and get all new gear.”

Both Sides Now

Having been to the top of his profession, now moving to the other side of that same mountain that his friend McCauley scaled, the respect has grown for those blowing the whistle.

“The preparation for officiating is much more mental,” Smolinski said. “Way more rules oriented. You’re always trying to get away with things that you can as a player; now you have to police that.”

Smolinski has a distinct advantage.

“I know everything they’re trying to do because I’ve done it. I know where you’re going with the puck, I know what kind of breakout you’re trying to do,” Smolinski said. “I have all the instincts, now I just try to stay out of the way and not ruin their game. The most fun is watching the game develop and the ups and downs. For me to be out there and enjoy it with them, that’s the fun part.”

Smolinski, third from left, with his crew: Michael Andrews, Kevin May and Thomas Robbins.Those who have played hockey at any level have a built-in advantage should they consider the officiating avocation: the ability to skate. Unlike officiating in any other sport, skating is a prerequisite. This makes the pool limited, and almost solely composed of former players. Smolinski offers this advice.

“I prefer sticking with high school because I think there’s more decorum, more administrative structure. Kids are playing for their schools, there’s loyalty there,” said Smolinski. “And there is more accountability. People need report to athletic directors and supervisors. Other levels can be more loosely governed, or a bit more maverick in nature. Moms and dads get involved more, coaches maybe know a little less,” said Smolinski.

He has, in fact, worked a handful of non-school games, and there’s a stark difference.

“I wanted to see what was going on, and I see it first-hand,” Smolinski said. “There are some crazy people and parents out there, and these guys are getting absolutely tortured. I’ve been tortured. There has to be a level of respect for what officials do. I think schools can rein that in a little more. All the guys I’ve met give up a lot of time and work hard because they love to do it and love the game.”

All sports need an assist from school administration and from those who once played the games to keep the officials recruitment moving in the right direction. People like Smolinski can help.

“He clearly doesn’t need to do this, and that’s what makes it so fantastic,” DiCristofaro said. “We need more people who have played – at any level – to do what he’s done and stay in the game as officials.”

Smolinski continues to promote the game in other ways as well. Currently he is involved in the NHL’s Learn To Play initiative, which aims to inspire youth and welcome more families into the hockey community.

“We work hand-in-hand with the NHL Players Association for player development and industry growth,” Smolinski said. “Ages 5 to 9 are introduced to hockey, get head-to-toe gear and instruction, and meet some former players.”

The idea is to have fun first, which can translate into years and maybe even a lifetime in the sport. It’s a lifetime that has given Smolinski so much and continues to do so as he watches it unfold for others from his new vantage point.

PHOTOS (Top) MHSAA official Bryan Smolinski signals during Friday's Division 1 Semifinal between Brighton and Hartland. (2) Smolinski, a retired NHL standout, communicates with the Bulldogs' bench. (3) Smolinski keeps watch during game play. (4) Smolinski, third from left, with his crew: Michael Andrews, Kevin May and Thomas Robbins.