Hall of Fame high school official Bozo Wincek watches his daughter, Jacki, officiate an adapted softball game in 2015
Bozo Wincek was looking forward to Wednesday. He had a meeting scheduled to discuss a new, online assigning system for the umpires and officials at Gopher State Officials, the organization he helped create more than a half-century ago.
“I’m happy with what we have, but the [MSHSL] wants to go another way,” the 80-year-old Wincek said.
After that, another meeting, this time to figure out finances at the organization and how they’re going to pay out money owed with nothing coming in.
This is what it has come to: The highlight of the week for one of the most well-known officials in the state -- a man who is a member of more than a handful of halls of fame -- is a pair of online meetings to discuss administrative issues.
“I’ve got a busy day,” Wincek said. “It’s been pretty boring.”
For Wincek and thousands of other men and women who officiate sports at all levels, the coronavirus pandemic has take them off the field of play and deposited them squarely on their couches, waiting to be needed again.
Being idle in the spring is taking plenty of adjusing for officials, many of whom work as up to 50, 60 baseball or softball per season across different levels. For some, the cancellation of sports has put a significant dent in expected income.
“Our group, we only have high school sports, but we’ve got a lot of umpires who’d do a game every day is they could,” Wincek said. “They’re down about $3,000, just for the high school stuff. Then you take a lot of umpires who start working town ball, legion ball, slow-pitch softball, youth softball fastpitch. They miss out on this games. It puts a little crimp in things.”
Once such official is Pat Schumer of Shoreview. This would be his 38th spring behind the plate. Instead, he says, he’s spent his time finding things to do instead of calling balls and strikes.
“I’ve gotten really good at my job,” laughed Schumer, who is a workers comp claims adjuster. “I had about 25 games in April that were cancelled, for I didn’t have to take time off in the afternoon.”
Being an official, Shumer said, is not just a part-time job. He estimated that he works more than 100 athletic contests per year across baseball, football and basketball. It takes passion to keep up that kind of schedule.
“I miss the games,” he said. “But it’s the people you get to know years that I miss the most. The people you see year after year and end up building a relationship with.”
He echoed Wincek’s sentiments, saying, “It’s getting pretty boring for a lot of people.”
Wincek starting umpiring Little League baseball in 1955, two years before graduating from Minneapolis’ long-since gone Vocational High School. He doesn’t umpire games anymore – a broken hip suffered in 2018 after slipping on the ice while retrieving a stray morning newspaper ended that – but he said he would most likely be spending his afternoons baseball and fastpitch softball games, evaluating umpires.
He’s trying not to worry about potential permanent losses of officials, and of the 2020 football season. But those thoughts keep creeping in.
“We’re getting worried we might lose some people because of this,” Wincek said. “We don’t even know if we’re going have a football season.”
Instead, he’s leaning on his wealth of memories to tide him over. He was hired by now-retired Brainerd football coach Ron Stolski to officiate Stolski’s first games coaching at Park Center and Brainerd High Schools. “Ron had us up there all the time,” he recalled.
He remembers his crew being on for two losses by Hutchinson, both of which ended long Tigers’ winning streaks. “After the first one, a close loss to, I think, Brooklyn Center, [longtime Hutchinson coach] Grady Rostburg just came up to us and said ‘Nice game’. He was a great gentleman.”
His fondest memories are of calling more than one tense boys basketball Section 17 championship game between DeLaSalle and Marshall-University (also now closed) on the 1970s. “Those we at Augsburg. They were tough every year. And a lot of those kids in those games are now officials working for us.”
Times are tough right now, sure, and they are for everyone, but Wincek knows two things for sure.
“Games will get going again,” he said. “And I’ve been very lucky.”