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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘Have respect for the refs’: Student Officials Association trains Shockers for thankless but necessary job

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Wren Johnson
(Illustration)

When Trent Koehler played basketball in high school, he said he would sometimes “poke the bear” by taunting the referees. Fast forward five years later, and Koehler is the head of the Wichita State Student Officials Association while attempting to pursue officiating as a career.

“I actually laugh about this sometimes,” Koehler said. “Just looking back, how full-circle the moment it is now that I’m the referee because I never thought I was going to be doing it this seriously.”

The Student Officials Association attempts to train aspiring referees in football, basketball, volleyball, soccer and baseball/softball. 

When Koehler was brought on to fill a full-time university position at Wichita State a year and a half ago, he said there were only a handful of student officials. Now, they have 20-25.

“It’s a way to give back to a game you love,” Koehler said. “I started with basketball because I viewed it as a way to give back to a sport that gave so much to me.”

When Koehler arrived at Wichita State, he said he filled out an application to officiate intramural basketball games for some extra cash. 

“There’s a day two or three years in where I just said to myself, ‘I want to make it to division one on the college men’s side,’ and ever since then, I’ve kind of just stuck with it and been working hard and grinding to get there,” Koehler said.

Today, Koehler can be seen officiating high school, junior college and Division II basketball games across the state of Kansas.

If a new student signs up to be a referee, the Student Officials Association will give them training to understand the rules and game situations; however, Koehler pointed out that the only way to prepare you for the real thing is to do it.

“Officiating is trial by fire,” Koehler said. “We can teach you all of the rules and show you all the film in the world, but until you get out there and do it, it’s just different.”

Koehler warns that once a person starts officiating, they might never look at the game the same way again.

“I can’t watch a game without mentally thinking, ‘This ref called it because this happened, or this rotation happened because this happened,’” Koehler said. “My students tell me the same thing. As soon as they learn about it and work a few games, they’re like, ‘I can’t watch a Shocker game without watching the refs now.’ It’s a part of the game that’s invisible but visible at the same time.”

Koehler said he watches film of his officiated games to review and improve. He also talks to mentors to learn the finer details of the trade, but he said the most important skills for refereeing are psychological.

“If you’re in a gym and the whole gym’s coming down on you, you kind of just have to stand there and just relax for a second, kind of take it and then just be ready to move on to the next play,” Koehler said.

Koehler said, though stressful, his job is useful in more than one way.

“One of the things I tell my intramural officials is that if you can handle the stress of an environment like that, you can do almost any job in the world because there’s not a lot of jobs that are going to be more stressful or mentally taxing than officiating.”

Koehler called officiating a “full-time part-time job,” full of travel, planning and stress and low on thanks from the crowd. Koehler urged fans to do what he didn’t in high school: have some respect for the refs.

“You never know what that person went through that day,” Koehler said. “They’re human beings. They’re going to make mistakes. So just be kind.”

As to whether the games are rigged, Koehler gave a succinct answer.

“No. Absolutely not.”

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About the Contributors
Jacob Unruh, Assistant Sports Editor
Jacob Unruh is the assistant sports editor for The Sunflower. He is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. This is Unruh's first year on staff. He goes by he/him pronouns.
Wren Johnson, Illustrator/Designer
Wren Johnson is an illustrator for The Sunflower. Johnson is a third-year communications major that loves chickens. In her free time she likes to read, draw, and hang out with friends. Johnson uses she/her pronouns.

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