Sokoloski honored for 35 years of officiating

HONORED GUEST — Randy Sokoloski (right) of Fairmont acknowledges the crowd as Southern Minnesota Wrestling Officials Association president Rick Rud joins him between the Fairmont/Martin County West wrestling team’s pair of dual meets Jan. 17 in Sherburn. Rud presented Sokoloski with a plague for his 35 years of dedicated service to officiating high school wrestling in Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of John Millea and SMWOA)

After 35 years as an official, everything came full circle.

Randy Sokoloski was honored on Jan. 17 between the Fairmont/Martin County West Red Bulls’ dual meets with the St. James Area Saints and the Luverne Cardinals in Sherburn. It wasn’t the first time Sokoloski attended a meet with the Cardinals.

“My wife Kim reminded me, my career started against Luverne in the one match I got my first year,” Randy said. “And last year in the sectionals, my last match was against Luverne.”

Sokoloski got into officiating after finishing his prep wrestling career and getting married. He said becoming an official now is different from when he started.

“I just had a couple of officials, older guys, mention it to me and the more they talked about it, I just said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it,'” Sokoloski said. “They gave me the one match my first year. Things are really different from when I first started. There’s been a lot of rule changes, we’ve got this association (the Southern Minnesota Wrestling Officials Association) that encompasses from Wisconsin over to South Dakota, and our association is a pretty good thing. It’s kind of family-like, we all get together and try to make each other better.

“Starting out as an official now is a lot better. I was out on my own, I didn’t have people to talk to and learn from. Now the new guys do have people to learn from.”

Sokoloski started his officiating career in 1983. He said after the first year, when he got only one match, he officiated six in his second year, then 15 in his third and continued to build each year after.

He said at first he didn’t like officiating because it takes a different temperament from wrestling.

Sokoloski wrestled for Sherburn High School before it became Martin County West.

He said he doesn’t like to see schools consolidating, though it has made certain teams better.

“It’s too bad,” Sokoloski said. “You lose a lot of identities and the parents have the toughest time with it, I think.”

After growing up in Sherburn and living in Fairmont, Sokoloski said he has a vested interest in the Red Bulls, though he keeps his objectivity when he goes to matches.

“As an official, I go to the matches, I watch them and I just like to sit back and watch,” Sokoloski said. “I’m not gonna yell and scream and get all worked up. It’s just that objectivity that’s required to be an official, I have retained it.”

Sokoloski said the objectivity was one of his favorite parts of being an official and he has taken it into other aspects of his life. He said the connections he made with people were an important aspect as well.

“Being around the people, whether it be wrestlers, coaches or fans, I walk in the gym and I knew the people,” Sokoloski said. “I may not know all their names, but I knew the people. I liked the one-on-ones, the rhetoric with the people. And to be honest, the objectivity, the honesty that goes with officiating. I’ve put that in other aspects of my life, but I felt pretty strongly about that. You have to.”

When it came time for Sokoloski to be honored at the Red Bulls’ meet, he had no idea before getting to the gym, but he said he became suspicious when he saw who was there.

“I’ll tell you what, if you’re scared my family can’t keep a secret, they can,” Sokoloski said with a laugh. “I was stunned, we had other officials coming down and we knew we were going to, supposedly, critique the officials that evening. Then I looked up into the crowd and saw my daughter after the second match, right before they went out on the mat to call me down. I had just seen her the day before, she lives in the northern part of the Cities and I asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ she said, ‘Well, I like wrestling too,’ and I just thought, ‘OK, something’s up here.'”

One highlight of Sokoloski’s officiating career was getting to work matches with his son Brian. He said his son was an official for about 8 years.

“It was great working with him,” Randy Sokoloski said. “He was as good an official as I had officiated with. He was a great official.”

After 35 years, Sokoloski said back and hip problems made it hard for him to move around on the mat. He said he thought the younger officials would be fine without him.

“I’ve been jockeying around on the mat, trying to get where I need to be and it was wearing on me,” Sokoloski said. “I didn’t want to be the one people told, ‘You should have quit a couple of years ago.’ I just made the decision, 35 years is a while and I thought there’s some good young officials, they could carry on.”

When Sokoloski was honored during the Red Bulls’ meet, he didn’t get to speak on the mat, but he did have something he would like to say to everyone.

“If I would have spoken, what I would have said was, ‘All the years that I’ve been doing this, it’s been my honor,'” Sokoloski said. “They allow you to come to the school, they trust you and not all goes well. Whether it’s a missed call or a fan or a coach getting a little carried away. But all in all, it was a good experience and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”