Basketball: 10 area refs headed to state tournament

Local area basketball referees are headed to state tournament.

Ref makes a signal.
Darren Larson refs a girls basketball game between Crosby-Ironton and Staples-Motley Wednesday, March 2, 2023, at Crosby.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — It’s not just the area players hoping for a chance to get to the state basketball.

The people wearing the whistles, who officiate the games, also want an opportunity to referee state games.

This year the Mid-Minn Officials Association, which is based in Brainerd, is sending 10 of its 24 varsity officials to the state tournament, which is a new record for the association.

Kevin Ruen, who is one of the co-founders of the Mid-Minn Association, is one of the 10 referees headed to state. In 2021, Ruen won the MSHSL Officials Service Award. Ruen will be joined by Rick Aulie, Jim Schneider, Scott Kimman, Darren Larson, Mike Paulus, Lance Nelson, Tim Sanborn, Brad Amundson and Landon Stanfield as state officials in 2023.

“It’s a big deal since we are the biggest association in the area,” Ruen said. “We run with 24 varsity officials and our numbers have grown a little bit. In the years prior to this, the most state officials we’d ever got in was five — when you get 10, some of them are first-year officials which is an amazing feat and not that many associations get that type of attention.”


Ruen said one of the reasons for the 10 state officials is the high standards they have as refs.

“It stands out because to get some of these guys selected you have to be observed,” Ruen said. “Some guys get observed and don’t get the invite. Most of our guys that get observed in a year or two get to the state tournament. I believe Mid-Minn, and it’s been our protocol since the Greg Snow days (Snow is the other co-founder of the association), is to set the bar high. We are going to be top-notch and do it one way and we have upheld those standards and that’s why we get the state invites.”

Ruen is no stranger to the state tournament. He officiated a state title game in girls' basketball in 2013.

What makes Ruen happy is to see new guys in the association reach the state tournament.

Coach talks with a ref.
Referee Darren Larson talks with Crosby-Ironton girls basketball head coach Pete Vuklich in a game Wednesday, March 2, 2023, at Crosby.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“Mike Paulus is a first-time state official and he’s been doing this a while,” Ruen said. “We got him observed and showcased him and when he had his time to shine he shined and got the invite. We have some other examples like that in the 10 we are sending. Some haven’t been to the state tournament in five years or so and we have three newbies getting their first time in. We have a really good reputation at Mid-Minn with the high school league.”

Larson is making his fourth state appearance as a ref this season.

“I think the thing we all like to think of is that we are being rewarded for doing it right,” Larson said. “The goal was always about doing it right and becoming interchangeable and listening to what the high school league is trying to instill in all their officials. If you do that you will be rewarded and I think that’s how we look at it when we get someone from our group assigned to state.”

More from Conrad
Pequot Lakes vs. Maple River in the Class 2A State Consolation Finals Thursday, March 23.
Pequot Lakes vs. Plainview-Elign-Millville in the Class 2A State Consolation Semifinals Wednesday, March 23
Pequot Lakes vs Albany in the Class 2A State Quarterfinals Tuesday, March 21
Pequot Lakes plays No. 2 seed Albany in the Class 2A State Quarterfinals Tuesday, March 21

Larson said Ruen has had a great impact on him as an official.


“He’s kept me in it and kept us going,” Larson said. “He’s the one that’s put the most time into the organization itself. Working with area schools, activities directors, different coaches and being the face of the organization since the beginning. He’s our face in terms of the high school league and represents us at the association meeting. We are lucky he had the ability to put his time in to make the Mid-Minn what it is today.”

Larson said he was borderline shocked to learn the association he refs in was getting 10 officials to the state tournament.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It shows that we not only have good officials, but good officials who subscribe to officiate the right way to become that next level officiate.”

Ruen said it’s nice to get the personal recognition of getting to the state tournament. High school officiating is a part-time job for almost all referees.

“It’s an avocation, not a vocation,” Ruen said. “You have to have the desire and the passion to do it. You can make some money, sure, but you have some long road trips and some late nights. You have to have people who have high personal standards and our guys do.”

Ruen said the job of refereeing basketball games has been tougher over the years, but he still enjoys it.

“The fans have been a little bolder I’d say,” he said. “We can get by all that, but you have to have the passion and willingness to learn. That’s the biggest thing we hear from coaches. It’s about relationships, rule knowledge and general management. We are game managers and there is a lot of stuff that you have to decide and you have to decide it very quickly. The cool thing is that you get to be out there with the kids in the purest form of amateur sports.”

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or Follow on Twitter at

Started at the Dispatch in June of 2019.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads