By Marlys Kruger
For those of you local (and older) sports fans who attended the Colfax-Bloomer girls basketball game Saturday night on January 4 in Colfax, you may have recognized the three men in stripes assigned to keep control of matters on the court. Those officials were none other than brothers Tim, Rick and Jeff Prince, all Colfax graduates who have been making a name for themselves as basketball referees as well as officials in other sports throughout the state. Although the three have refereed together a few times before this game, this was the first game they have worked together on the same court they competed on in their high school days.
You might say sports is in the blood of all three of these guys as their dad Clyde and their uncles Rollie and Tom were all pretty good athletes for Colfax back in the 1950s, and they all went on to do plenty of officiating themselves. Tim, Rick and Jeff not only carried on the tradition of competing in sports for Colfax, but also went on to become either coaches or officials for several sports. All three agree their dad and uncles were a big influence on why they decided to pursue refereeing or umpiring.
Tim, the oldest of the three, graduated in 1980 after lettering in football, basketball and baseball for the Vikings. (He was a sophomore on the state champion basketball team). He moved on to coach basketball at the varsity level at Ladysmith (where he still lives) for 21 years under well-known coach Forrest Larson. He began refereeing basketball in 1983 at the junior high level, moved up to junior varsity and has been working varsity games for the past four years.
“I have always had a love for athletics so this keeps me involved in athletic competition,” he said. “I enjoy watching the area talent mature into better athletes.”
Tim considers having the opportunity to ref with his brothers a highlight of his career–so far.
“You don’t see this happen a lot,” he said. “But I also enjoy meeting coaches and other athletes and making long-term friendships through refereeing,” he added.
Tim also officiates all levels of football and had the honor of reffing the 2012 Division 1 State Championship game between Hartland Arrowhead and Sun Prairie. He has also been a baseball umpire at all levels for 29 years.
Rick graduated from Colfax in 1985 and was a member of the football team that played for a state championship his senior year as well as playing basketball and baseball. His basketball refereeing career began in his junior high years and he is now in his 27 plus season. He also started umpiring baseball and softball at an early age in the Colfax summer recreation program. Besides officiating football, baseball and basketball like his brothers, he also has volleyball and softball in his repertoire and works in seven different conferences at the varsity and junior varsity levels. He is now back living in Colfax after being away for several years.
“I started refereeing because of the thrill and and excitement of being on the court or field,” Rick said. “I still remembering my first season of umpiring here in Colfax. I was young and scared to death with parents yelling and coaches screaming and yet I thought this was something I enjoyed doing. Furthermore, it helps to have a little bit of crazy in you to do this. On the positive side, you can’t beat it and you have the best seat in the house. This is the only job that you are expected to be perfect on your first day and then expected to get better from there!”
Besides his dad and uncles, there were others who influenced him as far as becoming an official.
“I remember many good officials who worked my games when I was playing in high school who presented themselves in a positive way and sort of helped me get on the road to officiating,” he said. “There have been many highlights for me so far but working with my brothers has to be one of them. Between jobs, family and other commitments, it becomes a challenge to try and arrange working together,” he added.
And then, there’s Jeff, obviously the bigger voice of the three, who graduated in 1989 and was also a letterwinner in football, basketball and baseball. Jeff began reffing basketball during his high school days doing weekend tournaments for boys and girls at the Viking Club (elementary and middle school) level. He has moved up the ladder since those days and is now a Master Level official and still lives in Colfax.
“I guess sports was and still is in my blood,” he said. “I understand the game so it was easy for me to pick up on things. With my dad and uncles officiating for many years, it just rubbed off on me. My biggest personal highlight of reffing basketball is working with my brothers. But sometimes my back gets a little sore from carrying them,” he added.
From an officiating standpoint, Jeff’s best memory so far was being selected to ref at the Kohl Center in Madison in the WIAA State tournament, for the girls in 2011 and the boys in 2013.
“Being able to stand on the floor at the Kohl Center is such an honor,” Jeff said. “When I reffed the girls Division 3 game in 2011, the way the teams were positioned for their respected benches, I was the first one out on the floor. It was quite a rush and as I was standing and observing the teams, I couldn’t help think that just three weeks earlier, the Wisconsin Badgers mens’ team had beaten Ohio State who had been ranked number one in the nation at the time. It was a sell-out crowd and the Badger fans rushed the floor after the game, The place had to have been rocking and there I was, standing on the same floor.”
The road for Jeff to get to that stage began when he started officiating with the new three-person crew in 2006. It took a couple of years for his name to get out and in 2008, he was chosen to ref five WIAA tournament games, including a Division 4 sectional final game, played in the old Spooner High School gym, a gym that has many memories for Colfax fans according to Jeff.
“I found out what other officials I talked to meant when they said refereeing tournament games was a lot of fun and very exciting,” he said. “In 2009, I received seven tournament games including a regional final and two sectional games. The one game that stands out in my memory was the sectional semi-final game (again in the Spooner gym) in a highly anticipated game between Northwestern and Rice Lake. It was supposed to be played at River Falls but it was changed because of the long distance both teams would have to travel and after it was decided the Hayward gym, where they wanted to move it to, was too small for the large crowd they expected. While I was in the officials locker room, the guy in charge of us came in to tell us he had never seen so many people in that gym before. I took a quick look into the gym and it was standing room only and packed from wall to wall. This was by far the biggest game I have ever officiated.”
Jeff explained when you are asked to ref a tournament game by the WIAA, you don’t have any choice in where you go. In fact, he had to go way up to Ashland for a game in 2008.
As of now, the siblings have 8-10 games scheduled together and Rick and Jeff, along with Jeff Hastings of Menomonie will be doing five WIAA tournament games together including a boys’ sectional and a girls’ regional final.
When asked if it was a rough crowd in the Colfax gym the night the three worked together, Jeff spoke for the three:
“Nah, the fans know not to harass us, especially me,” he said with a laugh. “I think the one I heard the most from was my daughter!”