Ron Herman donates pay from final year of high school football officiating to U of I Stead Family Children’s Hospital, reflects on 35-year officiating career

Supporting a great cause with great support from his family ... Surrounded by his family, Ron Herman of Waukon holds the symbolic check that represents the donation he made December 28 of this past year to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, which towers behind the Herman family in the photo background. The $930 donation represents the pay Herman received from his 35th and final season officiating Iowa high school football games this past fall. Even though the donated funds came solely from the money earned by Herman in his final year of high school officiating, he wanted to make sure his family was involved in the donation presentation because of the sacrifices he feels they made over the years in supporting him and allowing him to officiate the game that he loves. Pictured above, left to right, are Samantha, Susanne, Ron, Sydney and Jonathan Herman. Submitted photo.

Strong local nucleus for 20 years ... One of the best things Ron Herman of Waukon noted about his 35-year career officiating Iowa high school football is the camaraderie between his fellow officials on his Friday night crew, such as the nucleus of fellow Waukon-based officials he worked with for two decades and is pictured above with in more recent years and below with in their earlier years together. Pictured above, left to right, are Dave Blocker, Dennis Lyons, Jesse Delaney and Ron Herman. In addition to the obvious change in uniform pants, one thing Herman noted in the two photos is the fact that he, Blocker and Lyons all conformed to the old adage of officials needing glasses out of necessity - and not by suggestion, further noting with a chuckle and grin that Delaney “probably needs some too”. Submitted photo.

Submitted photo.

A signature moment ... Ron Herman of Waukon signs his name to the symbolic check that represented the $930 donation he made to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City. Those donated funds represented the pay that Herman received during his 35th and final year of officiating Iowa high school football games this past fall. Submitted photo.

As an Iowa high school football official for the past 35 years, Ron Herman of Waukon has made a number of calls impacting a number of youth on playing fields across northeast Iowa. With one final call he made this past fall he wanted to make an even bigger impact off the field in honor of his final year of officiating high school football.

December 28 of this past year, Herman, his wife, Susanne, and his three children, Jonathan, Sydney and Samantha, all made the trip to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, where he presented a check in the amount of $930 to the hospital. That dollar amount represented the total pay he collected officiating high school football games this past fall, which marked his 35th and final year of working as an Iowa high school football official.

“I saved up all of my pay stubs from the games I officiated this past fall, totaled them up and wrote a check to the children’s hospital,” Herman explained.

The call he made to arrange for the donation was something he had obviously pondered long before his final high school grid season as an official. Being a lifelong Iowa Hawkeye fan, holding a soft spot in his heart for all kids, having his oldest daughter, Sydney, recently graduate from Iowa, and attending many football games at Kinnick Stadium with the Stead Family Children’s Hospital towering majestically above the stadium, Herman knew he wanted to give back to a cause factoring in all of those elements, with that giving back coming from an activity that had given so much to him over the past 35 years.

“We’ve been to a lot of football games in Kinnick Stadium, and from where we would sit, when you look over your right shoulder, there was the children’s hospital, and you could see the kids and their parents watch from the big glass windows,” Herman explained. “In recent years they started waving to those kids after the first quarter of each home game and - even before that, really - when I’d look up there, my bottom lip would start to quiver and tears would well up in my eyes, just knowing what those kids, those families, have been going through being born with something, or suffering through something, that puts them in that hospital, sometimes not knowing what their future is going to entail. I just knew I wanted to try and do something to help those kids.”

Herman designated his donation to education supplies for the educational program available at the children’s hospital for those in need of long-term stays. “We learned that they have a teacher there for the kids to help them keep up with their schooling while they’re in the hospital,” he explained. “With me working as a school custodian and being around kids my entire career, and my wife being a teacher so I know how much they spend out of their own pockets, it seemed very appropriate to have the money go to that program. I had one of the greatest jobs in the world, getting to interact with kids at school like I did. You could always tell the kids that were facing some challenges in one way or another, and I always tried to give them a little extra attention just to try and make their day a little brighter. That’s what I hoped to do with this donation, too.”

Herman said he thought he was trying to do that same thing for a youngster they were sharing an elevator ride with from the parking area at the hospital on the day of the donation presentation, but he was pleasantly surprised by the strength and courage of the little boy. “I thought I’d kid around with him a little bit, and I told him that I was scared too riding in that elevator,” Herman explained. “But he looked at me, and he said, ‘No, I’m not scared, I’ve done this a lot.’ That really made me sit back and realize just how amazing these kids are at that hospital, knowing the kinds of things they’re facing and taking it head on. I told my family we should all be so thankful for not having had to go through something like that in our lives.”

Herman said he was also amazed to learn that the Stead Family Children’s Hospital treats about 100,000 boys and girls each year. About the only disappointment he experienced from his donation presentation is the fact that he and his family couldn’t tour the hospital the day they were in Iowa City due to recent increases in COVID and flu.

Taylor Reyhons, Assistant Director of Corporate and Community Development for The University of Iowa Center for Advancement, who coordinated the Herman family’s visit to the hospital for the donation presentation, issued the following statement in regard to Herman’s donation: “On behalf of the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, we are thankful for the generosity of Ron Herman and the support from his wife and children. Donations like Ron’s benefit the hospital’s greatest needs, and in this case, specifically the educational needs of our patients during their stay in Iowa City.”

Having his wife and children be part of the presentation was something Herman said he wanted more than anything, even though it made scheduling the presentation a bit more difficult. He noted that the time and effort represented by the donation of his officiating funds went far beyond just him working the games but also was a product of the time he spent away from his family and the sacrifices they endured each Friday night in the fall with his absence.

“When it came time to take a picture with the check, they asked me if I wanted a picture of just me with the check,” Herman shared. “I told them, ‘no, I want my entire family in it because of what they had to put up with, with me being gone, and they sacrificed a lot in order for me to be able to do this’.”

The December 28 date coordinated well with his wife being on holiday break from her teaching job at Lansing Middle School, their youngest daughter, Samantha, being likewise on break as a student at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, and their oldest daughter, Sydney, being on break from her job as well. Herman’s son, Jonathan, the oldest of all his children, took the day off from his job to be part of the presentation.

“That meant so much to me to have them all there,” Herman noted.

With the donation to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital stemming from the pay he received during his final year of officiating high school football, Herman said he had originally thought he would bring an end to his officiating career two years ago. “I had 33 years in, and I was thinking it was time for me to hang up the stripes,” he said. “Then I got to thinking about how the (Iowa High School) Athletic Association recognizes milestone years of service and I thought, ‘that would be 35 years - what’s two more years?’. And nowadays we’re contracted for two seasons. So, I decide to hang in there another couple years because I was still feeling pretty good about what I was doing and still loved the game.”

“But, it’s time. There was once a day when I could pretty much keep up with a player who breaks away for a long touchdown run. I’d sprint to the goal line and signal the touchdown. Lately, though, I’m probably 20 or 25 yards behind the play, and I’ll run to about the 20-yard line or so and throw up my hands signaling the touchdown, and then walk the rest of the way to grab the ball,” he said, as he leaned forward in his chair and panted in short breaths, as if providing evidence of  his reasoning to bring his high school officiating career to a close.

Herman’s high school football officiating career has some surprising roots, at least to him anyway. He said while working one day in the late 1980s at the Waukon High School he was approached by then assistant high school principal and athletic director, the late Dick Gearhart.

“I was working as a custodian at school, and I always had to go up to the high school as part of my job, and Gearhart came up to me one day and asked if I wanted to be a football official,” Herman recalled, mimicking the same look of surprise he likely had when he was first asked the question. “I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ to people, so I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’. I always wondered what Dick saw in me that made him ask me about becoming an official. I never played high school football, so I often wondered what he saw in me. And Gearhart wasn’t a guy you just asked a question like that, because you never knew if you’d get a straight answer. So, I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I had some good guys that I got in with their officiating crews and they helped me out to make me end up doing this for 35 years.”

Those “good guys” that Herman got his start with included former Allamakee Community School District teachers Dennis Runge and Larry Siddell, along with a former principal from the MFL School District, Larry Cox. Herman said he also worked with former classmate Mark Weighner, and Dave and Kerry Darling, along with Jesse Delaney, who Herman continued to work with throughout the remainder of his career. Fellow Waukon High School graduates Dennis Lyons and Dave Blocker joined Herman and Delaney to form a more recent nucleus of a long-standing officiating crew that Herman described as “being pretty strong together for about 20 years”.

“The camaraderie you form with these guys is the best thing about it; we just love the game of football,” Herman said of the crew members he has worked with. “You know, we may not have done much else together outside of the two-and-a-half months of football, but when it came to the fall we really looked forward to getting together and being a part of the game. There were a lot of sacrifices you made - especially your family time, and it certainly wasn’t for the money. You just did it for the love of the game.”

Herman said that camaraderie doesn’t always just lie within the crew that he was working with. Along with fellow officials from other crews, Herman says he has always enjoyed the conversations he’s had - and continues to have in some cases - with former officials who made up some of the local crews before him.

“You had guys like Bud Strike, Gib Felton and Jerry Siegrist - Jerry did basketball and I used to work the game clock at home games, and they’d always come up to you and ask, ‘where do you get to go this year, or what game do you have coming up this week,” Herman explained. “It just makes you feel good when people recognize what you’re doing and you’ve got that common bond to talk about. Just this past fall, I talked with Bud about some game situations. And we admit, we’ve made some mistakes, we’re not perfect, but I don’t believe we’ve ever factored into the final outcome of a game, and we always try and learn from those mistakes and get better, no matter how long you’ve been doing this.”

The criticism officials take from fans, coaches, players, etc. when those mistakes are made - or even when others think a mistake may have been made - is something that Herman said he’s learned to try and tune out and obviously not let influence the calls he makes. He does admit, however, that he hasn’t been shy about offering up his striped shirt and whistle to those who push things a little too far.

“The tail-end of my years as an official, I’d say the crowd hasn’t been quite so bad because they realize there’s a shortage of game officials,” Herman said. “And more and more, we’ve had players come up to us after the games, at all levels, and thank us for doing this because they realize that officials are in short supply, and I think they appreciate the fact that what we’re doing allows them to play the game they love. That makes an official feel good, when a kid takes the time to say thank you and shake their hand.”

Herman said the criticism or plea he has heard the most in his years of officiating is “holding” from players on the field, personnel on the sidelines and fans in the stands. He acknowledges there could be some type of holding call whistled on pretty much every play of the game, but says there are plenty of factors to consider in throwing a flag on it.

“People have to understand that call,” he explained. “The area where the ball’s at; did it make a difference in the play; are they going after the person who has the ball; what is that other player trying to do to get out of that hold - that’s what people have to understand about calling a holding penalty. If you’re just standing there not trying to fight to go after the ball, I’m probably not going to call that. I’ll talk to players who complain that they’re being held, and I’ll say, ‘yeah, I saw it, but the ball is way over there and you were not trying to go after the ball’. And kids are usually pretty good about that when you talk to them - that’s what you have to do, talk to the kids and explain things to them sometimes. They appreciate that.”

Herman admitted that when it came to the rules of the game, he wasn’t much of a bookworm. Instead, he relied on experience and watching games and other officials to hone his skills beyond what he would take from the book.

“Those rule books and case books, for me, they weren’t always easy to understand just reading about them; I’m not nearly as good at that as a Dennis Lyons or a Dave Blocker, a Larry Siddell or Dennis Runge - they could read that stuff and pick it up fairly quickly,” Herman revealed. “For me, I’m more of a hands-on kind of guy; I learned from seeing a situation and never forgetting it. But it’s so nice to have guys like that on your crew, who are knowledgeable and can figure out those situations, especially when you get multiple penalties or unique situations. Honestly, you’re only as good as your other officials, and I’ve been blessed to work with some pretty great guys.”

Herman says the biggest changes he’s seen in his 35 years as a high school football official are the speed and strength of kids nowadays. He said that also goes hand-in-hand with the greater emphasis being placed on keeping the game safe.

“The biggest changes are speed and strength of the kids,” he acknowledged. “You remember back in our day the small weight room we had at our high school, and now you go to these facilities that some schools have and the kids that are coming out of those weight rooms. That’s the biggest change. Everything else is pretty much the same overall. There have been some tweaks to rules and some rule changes, but everything else hasn’t changed much.”

“One of the rule changes that I like the best is the hitting of a defenseless player,” Herman further offered. “Some big guy just running down the train tracks and looking to light up the littlest kid he can find. We’ve had that situation, and we flag it right away. It’s made it much easier, because in the past, before that rule, you’d hear, ‘Hey, it’s football!’. By changing that rule, it’s really helped out in making the game safer, as far as concussions and other injuries that result from a play like that. They’ve really tried to err on the side of safety in sports, and that’s a great thing.”

When asked if there were any certain plays that stood out in his mind from three-and-a-half decades on the gridiron, Herman admitted “there were so many.” He acknowledged, though, that there is one play that he will never forget, and not necessarily because of any spectacular athletic feat or effort.

“We were doing an MFL game with South Winn a few years ago, and it was pretty lopsided - South Winn had that one stud runningback,” Herman began. “That kid broke away for another long run that was going to be a touchdown, but instead, he slid down at the one-yard line so that he didn’t add anything else to the score. South Winn just knelt it out and turned the ball back over to MFL. That sportsmanship stood out and has stuck with me ever since because, to me, sportsmanship is a huge part of the game that we try and promote as officials.”

The 1981 Waukon High School graduate also recalls officiating the game where his own son, Jonathan, caught a touchdown pass in a sophomore game. “He tossed me the ball and I told him ‘nice catch, Son’. He said, ‘Thanks, Dad.’ To me, that was very special.”

A couple of the funnier situations (at least now, and maybe not so much at the time) took place in similar fashion, one time at Edgewood-Colesburg and another in Denver. “We were down at Edgewood - and they’ve got a new field now, but back then it was right next to a corn field,” Herman told the story. “I put the ball down for an extra point try, and we all took our positions. The defense is standing there ready for the offense to break huddle, and all of a sudden this kid comes running off the sideline, picks up the ball and goes running into the corn field. We all looked at each other, like, ‘what just happened?’. So, new ball, and we continued on, I don’t know what ever happened to that ball. One other time we were in Denver, and the same situation played out, but it was Halloween. A kid ran out onto the field in a Superman uniform, picked up the ball, and took off running with it. OK, new ball! Those were a couple of the funnier things I remember.”

Herman also said he’s had the opportunity to officiate games with some outstanding athletes who eventually went on to college and even NFL careers. He noted most locally that knowing that he officiated the seventh and eighth grade and other lower level games of fellow Waukon native Parker Hesse, who went on to play at the University of Iowa and just wrapped up his first season on an active NFL roster as a tight end with the Atlanta Falcons, gives him a great sense of pride.

“I officiated high school games with guys like Josey Jewell (a Decorah native who also played for Herman’s beloved Hawkeyes and is currently a linebacker for the Denver Broncos in the NFL) and some other guys who I knew were going to play at Iowa; I’d tell them ‘whatever you do, just beat Iowa State and Wisconsin’,” he said with a chuckle. “I officiated games with guys like Justin Heins at North Fayette, who went on to play at UNI. I’d wish them luck and tell them how proud I am of having graduated with (UNI head football coach) Mark Farley.”

Getting to talk to the players and coaches was one of the things Herman said he looked forward to the most on Friday nights.

“I’d joke around with them, or compliment them if they made a nice play or showed good sportsmanship,” he said. “And I always tried to talk to them if things were getting out of control, just to calm them down or defuse a situation. I just wanted them to know that I respected what they were doing, so that maybe they would respect what I was doing too.”

Herman noted that his greatest accomplishment during his officiating career also held his greatest regret. Those ends of the spectrum both centered around the State Play-Off aspect of the high school football season.

“I was proud that we got to do three play-off games one season; being assigned a play-off game was usually a pretty good indicator that you were doing a good job as officials,” he explained. “But probably my biggest regret is that we never got to officiate a State Championship game in the (UNI) Dome. I came within a couple games of that, but never got to.”

Herman also said that he regrets never getting to officiate a game coached by the legendary Ed Thomas of Aplington-Parkersburg, who was ultimately taken from this life much too soon when he was fatally shot by one of his former players. “I always wanted to officiate a game coached by Ed Thomas,” he said. “He was one of those coaches that you admired so much because of the tradition and the program he created. But it never happened, and now, of course, he’s gone.”

Herman says that there is plenty of opportunity for anyone who thinks they want to try and be a football official. He knows that his life would likely be a whole lot different if he didn’t dive into the opportunity that was presented to him more than 35 years ago.

“I’m proud of doing it,” Herman beamed. “I’ve worked with some guys that tried to get into it and got out right away for one reason or another, but I’m glad I stuck it out and did it for 35 years. Let’s put it this way, I’ve seen a lot more people walk away from it, than I’ve seen getting into it. I don’t regret it one darn bit. It can be a thankless job, but it’s still very rewarding. You won’t do it for the pay, but you’ll do it for a lot better reasons.”

He also knows that when Friday nights roll around this fall, it will be very strange for him to not be on a football field somewhere. He notes, however, that he will still be officiating football games, just at a younger level of competition.

“It’s going to be strange,” Herman admits. “We’ll come to Friday nights this fall and it will be 7:00 and I’ll be thinking, well, the guys should be doing this or getting this ready. But, I’m still going to do lower level games, because we still need officials.”

Any finals words of advice that Herman would give to anyone thinking about being an official, or anyone who loves the game of football and wants to be involved with the game, all stem from the pride that he has felt each time he took that field on a Friday night. “It feels so good when you have a Friday night game and you walk out on the field knowing that you’re part of the game, part of this Friday night tradition of high school football,” he said. “You’re an important part of making this game happen, and I always look at the players and think, ‘if it wasn’t for me, these kids may not be able to play this game they love’. Another thing is the camaraderie with the guys you’re working the game with, and the people you get to meet when you travel to the different game venues. And even beyond the field, when people come up to you and talk to you about the game or ask a question about a situation because they know you’re a football official, it makes you feel good to be recognized for your efforts. I’m at a loss for words in trying to describe how good it feels when you walk out onto that field, and then when you walk off that field knowing what you were just a part of. You’re on a high the whole time - at least I was.”