In a world where nothing seems to last, commitments routinely go unfulfilled, promises are broken and attention spans are growing shorter and shorter, it’s nice to know there are still people that can be counted upon to hold up their end and keep plugging away.
Don Maskill is one of those folks.
The Oxford resident was recently honored by the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) with a 40-year service award at the organization’s 39th Annual Officials’ Awards and Alumni Banquet in East Lansing.
Maskill, who’s the assistant principal at Hart Middle School in Rochester Hills, has spent four decades officiating high school wrestling matches.
“When you (first) get into something, you don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this (for) 40 years,’” he said. “But I’ve made a lot of great friends, a lot of wonderful memories. The officials that I work with have become wonderful friends. The excitement of the matches is always enjoyable, too. It’s fun.”
Compared to other sports, Maskill said it “seems like” wrestling officials are “more involved” with what’s happening because they’re “so close to the action.”
“I think sometimes wrestling is like a chess match – you try to think (about) what you’re going to do next and how you’re going to position yourself to be in the right place (to make fair, accurate and consistent calls),” he explained. “Understanding what’s going to happen next, I think, really helps you be a good official.”
Wrestling has been part of Maskill’s life for many years.
As a student, he squared off on the mat for both Rochester High School and Oakland University. He was a national qualifier at OU back when it was an NCAA Division II school.
He credits the sport with helping make him the man he is today.
“I think wrestling teaches a lot about life in general,” said Maskill, who served as Oxford’s athletic director from 1993-98.
Those lessons include teamwork, leadership, how to be “mentally tough” and the importance of “being humble” because in wrestling, “you can lose a lot,” so it’s important to know how to deal with it.
“It humbles you pretty quick,” he said.
Maskill decided to become an official in order to “give back” to the sport that gave him so much.
He’s used his referee skills all over the state. He estimated he’s officiated between 700 and 1,000 matches per year.
“Most every winter, I’m working every Saturday,” Maskill said.
In March 1999, Maskill became the first official in MHSAA history to officiate a match involving a female wrestler at the individual state finals held at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit.
Cynthia Harrold, of Saginaw Buena Vista High School, was the first female to ever qualify for the individual tournament, which led to loads of media coverage.
“There was so much media (crowded) around the table when the kids came to the mat, I couldn’t get through them to get the (ankle bands) to give to the wrestlers,” Maskill said. “I remember (saying to Detroit sportscaster) Bernie Smilovitz, ‘Hey Bernie, would you hand me those anklets?’”
Both of Maskill’s sons, Neil and Wes, upheld the family’s wrestling tradition while attending OHS.
Wes, a 2014 OHS graduate, continued his wrestling career at Michigan State University until a serious injury forced him to call it quits after three years on the collegiate mat.
Following in his old man’s footsteps, Wes is now officiating wrestling matches for the MHSAA. Maskill has worked with his son at four or five events and so far, he’s impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s going to be a good (official),” Maskill said.
Maskill encourages those who have the time and the desire to become MHSAA officials. He said it’s a perfect job for retirees.
Not only is officiating a good avenue for gaining a whole new perspective on a sport, it’s also an excellent way to “give back to the kids and the community you live in,” he noted.