Kansas Pregame & Nex-Tech Wireless are joining forces to recognize the individuals behind the scenes who help area school athletic teams achieve success. Administrators, team managers, assistant coaches, media members & more. This is the first of three Nex-Tech Wireless Supporting Cast recognition stories that first ran in our Spring Preview. To nominate candidates for the Nex-Tech Wireless Supporting Cast email nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since before the time man first landed on the moon, Terrell Olson has been a referee for high school sports. The Kansas officiating legend began his career in 1968 and has been spending his time since patrolling fields and courts alike.
To give context, that same ’68 season, Bill Snyder was a young second-year head coach at Indio High School in California and hall of fame running back John Riggins was in his first year taking handoffs for the Kansas Jayhawks.
This past Fall, the veteran white hat finally decided to call it a career after 52 years.
To his credit, Olson has presided over 19 state basketball championship games, numerous high school playoff football games and even college athletic competitions. With officiating being a bit of a family business for the Olsons, in many competitions later in his career, he had the opportunity of officiating with his sons, Travis and Troy.
From a young age, Terrell’s boys were often seen around Kansas high school sports, occasionally benefiting from their father's work with some extra free time out of school.
“There are so many moments over his 52 years that stick out, or that I remember, but I will never forget being pulled out of grade school to go to Belleville for the Crossroads Classic basketball tournament for the weekend,” Troy said. “One of the best weekends of the season.”
Later, their father’s experience and commitment to the officiating craft was passed down to his sons.
“When the time came for my brother and I to start our officiating careers, he decided to step away from his college schedule to help my brother and I get started, he didn’t have too, but he did,” Troy said. “He made the commitment to help us get to where we wanted to be in officiating. Not a lot of officials have that mentorship and don’t make it a priority. Even when we were young in the business, and working a lot of junior high games he would still come work the game with us. It didn’t matter to him if it was junior high, it was allowing the kids to play, and he was helping us at the same time.”
Olson’s joy of being on the sideline was magnetic enough to help bring both sons into the officiating ranks. Travis, now a veteran who has been officiating for the last 28 years, remembers how his father’s career inspired him to join in.
“My dad and all of his buddies,” Travis said. “Seeing how much fun they had when they went on officiating trips. Hanging out with the guys and the thrill of the game. A way to stay in the game after your playing days and getting to do that with guys that are in it for the same reason.”
Troy, a veteran of 29 years, added that officiating is essentially in their blood.
“I started going with my dad to games when I was about five years old,” Troy said. “I had my own suitcase and shirt, and would wear that and sit behind the scorer's table at all the games, or be the ball boy for football on Friday nights. I saw how much fun he had on game nights, and then getting to meet some really good people over the years, I just knew it was something that I wanted to do and carry on in the family. My grandfather also officiated basketball way back when they wore long sleeve shirts, like from the movie Hoosiers, so to continue this in the family was important.”
The Olson’s tradition runs deep and Terrell set the example through professionalism and consistency. Travis referrred to his father's memory as a key character trait. “He remembers everything!” A skill which also makes the reality of learning the craft under someone with his father’s knowledge and tenure all the more daunting.
“It was awesome,” Travis said. “Sometimes it could get a little tense, just because of the different stages we were in our careers.”
Troy also pointed out the reality of calling important matchups with someone so close and committed to the game.
“Officiating with ‘The Old War Horse’, as we all call him had its good times and its not so good times, but no matter what there isn’t another guy I would want on a tough game than him,” Troy said. “We had our moments of disagreement on what should have been done, or was done, in particular situations, but no matter what they were always memory making game nights, even interesting some times. There was never a game that we worked where he didn’t know someone who was at the game. Never! I would ask him, 'Who was that?’ and he would say, ‘Ohhh I worked him when he was playing at Natoma or somewhere and he is here watching his grandson play, and I even worked his daughter when she played.’ So, he officiated many third generation family members. Just unbelievable to say the least.”
Olson’s sons only display respect and admiration for their father, and last fall they were able to put that respect on display just before a football game.
“This past football season Riley County let us, as a crew, recognize him before our football game, and he really appreciated that,” Troy said. “He will never admit it, but it choked him up. He always maintained the mindset that this vocation is not about the money, it's not about you, it's about the kids in junior high, and high school, they only have a few years to play, then most of them will be done.”
“Then, when they come back and see you eight, nine, ten years later at a game and remember you, and say, ‘Mr. Olson, thanks for giving me that Technical for slamming the ball on the floor eight years ago, I deserved it,’ and you both can laugh and talk about it, that’s his recognition, because he made a positive impact on a young person’s life,” Troy continued.
The senior Olson’s steadfast commitment to officiating isn’t without solid examples, as sometimes there is a need to separate your life as a sports fan when you’re committed to calling the game at hand.
Terrell and his sons are Kansas State fans, and Travis remembers vividly officiating with his father during a top-five basketball matchup between Wichita Southeast and Junction City in 1998. At the same time that game was playing, the 1998 Big XII Championship between the Wildcats and Texas A&M was taking place, a game many readers will likely remember. The Cats would lose the game in heart-wrenching fashion, ruining their undefeated season and dashing their national championship aspirations.
Always the consummate professional, the senior Olson didn’t falter in his focus, and wouldn’t let his crew either.
“They announced the score of the football game and it was like a funeral in that gymnasium,” Travis said. “You could hear a pin drop. Troy and I went to my dad and we both had the same thought 'Dad, let's go home. We don't want to work anymore'. He literally read the looks on our faces and said, ‘I know what you are thinking, but keep your heads in the game. We have the two best teams in the state in this gym and it is a two-point game. Get your asses in gear and finish this game. We can't change what happened in St. Louis’.”
That Southeast vs. Junction City game was one of many legendary matchups Olson would officiate.
His son, Travis, noted other prominent settings in the Kansas sports landscape over the years including Friday nights in Smith Center during their 79-game football win streak in the latter half of the 2000s, the early 2000s with the towering Pruitt brothers of Beloit taking on a powerhouse Belleville squad in a noisy, cramped gymnasium, a sub-state come-from-behind football victory with Wichita Heights surging back from a 31-3 halftime deficit to take the game 37-34 over Dodge City, with future Wichita State basketball player Evan Wessel making the winning catch in the back of the endzone.
The great matchups Olson got to call are too numerous to list, but Travis reflected particularly on the Dodge City vs. Heights game.
“It is these types of games that kept my dad in it for so long,” Travis said. “At the end, in the locker room, dad told us, ‘Boys, that may be the best football game I have ever worked.’ It was great.”
While that may be true, it is not the only game in contention for “best football game” ever worked by Terrell Olson, as Troy recalls another particular game that also shows the level of commitment officials make with their time, while getting very little compensation.
“Of all the thousands of games he has probably officiated over the years, he never forgets what he calls, ‘The Game,’” Troy said. “It was the football game in 1976 when Bogue High School played Lucas-Luray at Luray, and the Kansas City Star made the trip to cover this 8-Man game and do a story on football in the Midwest. There were just over 3,000 people at the game that night and the final score was 16-13, and Luray won and Greg Hinze was the coach. He could probably even tell me who the night janitor was as well. His crew was paid roughly $15.00 per person, and back then 8-Man was a 3-person football crew.”
As Olson enters into retirement from officiating, he still will maintain two major duties outside of his career in stripes, including running the family farm and also being a dedicated grandfather.
“I don't think he really wanted to retire, but he really wants to watch his grandkids play sports,” Travis said. “His oldest grandson is a freshman at Clay Center and is one heck of a long snapper, so he will be playing quite a bit in the coming years. He has two granddaughters that are in all sorts of activities from basketball, volleyball, softball and horseback riding; then the youngest grandson is a heck of second baseman, so he has plenty to keep him busy. Troy and I plan to keep him registered and you may see him pop up on a junior high field or court occasionally, but Fridays are now reserved for the grandkids.”
Officials aren’t typically the participants in sports matchups that receive a lot of praise and recognition. That was never something that Terrell was in it for. Besides some articles that have been done on the Olson patriarch over the years, he doesn’t have a trophy room full of accolades for “best official.” That doesn’t exist.
“He has received his awards from the KSHSAA, but that is for years of service,” Travis said. “My dad is not one to do this for the awards or recognition. I would love for him to garner some of them, but he is the last person to seek those out or want the recognition. Remember, if you go to a game and don't remember the officials or anything they did, that's a well officiated game. The best referee is the one you don't notice!”
Even so, after 52 years, it’s time an official like Terrell Olson receives some well-deserved recognition.
“He had a run that not many can match," Troy said. “He had great partners over the years from Don Smith, Bob Reynolds, and Doug Gordon in basketball, to John Cline, Dennis Walker, Jerry Pitts, Randy Wetzel and Greg Gordon in football. I would say he gave the game everything that officiating gave him.”
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