“He’s so much more than an official.”
Mark Maxwell worked his last high school baseball game last weekend, calling balls and strikes for a state championship game.
It was fitting that Maxwell, 71, officiate his last game on the highest level, because that is exactly where his 23-year officiating career resided.
Saturday’s game was the seventh baseball championship game for Maxi, as he is known in most circles, and it gives him an even dozen title games in four IHSAA sports: three in football, and one each in softball and boys basketball.
The championship games are only the fancy tip on the top of his ref-hats, as each trip to the state finals only comes after several seasons of grading out as one of the best in the state.
The ratings come from the coaches, but Maxwell has spent nearly as much time promoting officiating and making fellow officials better as he has on a field or court.
The opening comment came from Phil Gardner, who retired as an Assistant Commissioner of the IHSAA five years ago, but continues to consult for the association.
“There is none better,” Gardner said. “I was blessed to have worked with him since 2008 when I became an assistant commissioner in charge of baseball. He is such a good friend and a huge supporter of the IHSAA, it’s programs and student-athletes. He is a man of great integrity and loyalty.”
Current Assistant Commissioner Sandra Walter has 10 years of working side-by-side with Maxwell, and the two of them have made big strides in not only recruiting new officials, but retaining the rest.
“Sandra has worked her tail off for officials,” Maxwell said. “Her tenacity is off the charts, and she has a nation-wide great reputation. She has been instrumental in helping us getting the word out in recruiting and mentoring.”
Maxwell has served as president of the Indiana High School Officiating Leadership Association since 2006, and even with retiring from doing games, will continue in that role for two more years.
“We could not have done it without Mark,” Walter said. “Under his leadership, all 24 officials associations have grown and he has been instrumental in the processes we have in place to recruit and especially to retain officials. We have between 5,800 and 6,000 officials in the state, and that is a lot to ask, but he has never backed down or shied away from the duties. His peers elected him to this role, and they look to him as that leader.”
As it is with a life well-lived, a top-shelf official is always more than the person who straps on a whistle or pulls a counter out of a pocket.
“Over the coarse of these 23 years, I have become good friends with a lot of folks,” Maxwell said. “There have been so many highlights, so many great memories, like when four guys from our (Western Indiana Officials Association) were assigned to a single state baseball finals in 2016, or when I worked a state finals with my mentor, Mike Duboy, and Darren Haas, who took the baseball text for the first time with me way back when. Working a state football finals with the crew of local guys was another, and there were many, many more.”
Many of those fellow officials were ready with a thought.
“I got to know Mark Maxwell when I helped administer the IHSAA officiating tests,” Duboy said. “He came to get his license in baseball. That was 20 plus years ago. It was then that he came to our first baseball meeting in the back room at Riehle Brothers. Sitting in the back with Darren (Haas) and taking it all in, saying nothing! How far he has come , now leading the 24 officials’ associations. He has worked tirelessly to promote and foster high school officiating in Indiana. As he always says at every meeting “ For the good of the Whole not the one!”
“Mark has become a very dear and close friend. I have driven many miles with him over the years in football, basketball, and baseball. From Terre Haute to Norwell and all points in between. I learned that his passion is to help all others succeed in officiating. A true passion! I will truly miss him on the field, but know that he will continue to work selflessly for the betterment of high school officiating in Indiana.”
It is interesting to note that Maxwell, who broke in under Duboy, and always considered him a mentor, worked his final game last Saturday with that same mentor, as Maxi was behind the plate and Duboy was on first base.
He and Haas have also worked several state finals together, in both baseball and football. They have been spotted on the same field more than a few times.
“To say Maxi was the perfect person to get my license with and work with over the past 20 years would be an understatement,” Haas said.
“He has been an outstanding mentor for a number of reasons, but the very first is that of making a first impression. When we started umpiring baseball games together, he insisted that our shoes were shined and our uniform be spotless. You only get to make a first impression one time, Mark said. This Maxi-ism was the first of a hundred that has caught my attention and resonated in my attitude over the years.”
The loyalty Maxi has for the people he loves is absolutely second to none,” Haas continued. “He is a great friend and has always been there for me on and off the athletic fields.”
Although he is rarely ever wrong, he is a wealth of knowledge and he understands how to make those around him better. His critique is stern but spot on. If you listen to him and do as he asks, he will make you better. This makes him the best on-field evaluator in the state. I believe this was a great calling for him and I know his relationship with the IHSAA has made officiating better!”
The 23 years of hard work paid off in many ways.
There were the dozen state finals, and there were a few that he declined, opting to work only as an observer so “the next guy could get a chance.”
There have been several all-star games, and he has been named Outstanding Official on the state level in both football and baseball (twice) and there are rumors of a basketball honor coming down the road.
He was named Regional Baseball Umpire of the Year in 2009 and upon the nomination of North Montgomery Coach Matt Voorhees and Crawfordsville Coach Brett Motz, was named to that honor again this season.
He has chaired multiple councils on recruiting and has been the lead clinician for IHSAA baseball and basketball clinics for six years. If he isn’t reffing a state finals, he can be found at many others, manning a recruiting booth for officials.
And, to go with all that officiating, he has been working with the Big Ten in the replay booth, working at either Purdue, or Indiana, or even both, as the replay communicator between the field and the booth.
It’s quite a trip from his first game back in the area.
“Phil Rash at Fountain Central called,” Maxwell said. “He got my name from Randy Tolley at Covington. That was my first varsity game.”
It sure wasn’t his last, as area athletic directors know Maxi’s phone number by heart.
“Mark has always been a class act,” North Montgomery AD Matt Merica said. “He takes officiating seriously and has been a mentor to countless officials. He’s been such a regular for me here at North in both football and baseball. He is also a close friend that I can count on not just to do a game, but to get a round of golf in with. I know there were two or three times this season alone that he gave up a night off because I was short an umpire. It’s always been about the kids to him, and I’m said to see him hang it up.”
Crawfordsville AD Bryce Barton, who is also an IHSAA official, sees the Maxwell impact from both sides.
“There is very little hoopla or fanfare that comes with officiating high school sports,” Barton said. “You want to get in and get out, do your job, fly under the radar, and don’t be recognized. He got into this avocation to give back to the schools, coaches, and athletes who he worked for. It was never about the state championships, although he will be quick to remind his closest buddies how many he has worked.”
“Mark has done a phenomenal job of recruiting new officials into the profession, mentoring that young official, and leading the WIOA and IHSOLA; which is our state officials association. The local schools are fortunate that we could have Mark around for big games to call.”
“I want to thank him for his professionalism, his leadership, and the high standards that he set for those who have worked with him and for him. He is known to say “get better” and I can say that we are all better because of Maxi.”
Getting better has always been a mantra.
“My good friend, and barber, Tom Hampton, had been after me for years to get my officials license,” Maxwell said. “I had been railing on umpires down at Elston Park for years, so I just knew I could do better. I told Sandy (life partner) that I was going to do this, and it has led to so many wonderful experiences. My dad, Marion ‘Runt’ Maxwell, coached for 33 years and was my harshest critic. He had only one comment when I asked him about getting less heat from coaches — ‘Do Better!’
“The only disappointing part is that Dad never got to see my work a state finals. He would have gotten a kick out of that,” he added. “Bill Boone was a proxy for my dad last week however, and that was nice.”
With all the successes, there was also one regret.
“It’s not anything with the games or the sports,” Maxwell said. “My only regret is that I didn’t spent enough time with my son when I was officiating.”
A couple of those younger recruits are making their way up the officiating ladder.
Terry Baker, of Crawfordsville, worked his first baseball state finals last weekend.
“Mark had been a big part of my officiating career,” Baker said. “He has been a big mentor to me along with many other officials. He has taught me over the years how to do things the right way and that we have a duty to do it for the kids and not ourselves. Many times he had said “ we do it for the whole and not the one” Not only has he helped me with officiating in three sports, but he has taught me how to be a leader (I was really shy before officiating). Mark has always made it fun to officiate anytime I worked with him. Not many guys take the time to help younger officials, but mark loves helping everyone as long as they do it for the “whole”. I’ve taken what Mark said and applied it to what I have taught younger guys and in my officiating career. He has been a father figure to me and I owe my success in basketball, baseball and football to him. If it wasn’t for him, I would not have worked a state finals in football and baseball.”
Chad Hodges, also of Crawfordsville, has been on the Maxwell training vehicle.
“He was my biggest mentor.,” Hodges said. “So much so that people say I’m a mini-maxi, which I take as a compliment. He pushed me to be the best official possible. He always told me I can be replaced on the football crew. Jokingly I hope. I still remember the first time he called me to work my first varsity football game. It was Fountain Central vs Rockville. He said ‘you have everything, right, and also you know what you have to do? I said yes, I have all my stuff and yes, I know what I have to do. He goes — shave your goatee. I was like umm why — I’ve had this for over 10 years. Then it was the maxi pause. Of course I did it. That’s how much respect I had for him.”
“He was always for the kids. No matter what sport. He not only meant a lot to the officials around here but the whole state. I was lucky enough to work the 2018 Football state finals with him. Also, I worked my first baseball sectional with him and my first boys basketball sectional with him. Hopefully I can make an impact on young and up in coming officials like Maxi did me. I will definitely miss working with him. But trust me he will still be around and the game making sure we do it the right way.”
With retirement, Maxi gets his Golden Whistle, which is an IHSAA retirees membership. It will allow him access to continue forming and mentoring. His role as IHSOLA also secures a spot at the table.
He has one immediate job — clean out the man-cave.
“I could have never done any of this without Sandy’s support,” he said. “Not only has she done unreal loads of laundry, and spent a lot of hours waiting for me to get home, but she has pushed my every step of the way. She asked me the first day “Do you know what you are doing?” and since that day, she has been so supportive, so helpful. She has also made it to every state finals game I have worked. Like I said, I couldn’t do it without her.”
So Mark Maxwell steps away from officiating games. It is obvious he won’t step away from his involvement with high school sports at the officiating level.
With friends in high places like the IHSAA or new guys to train, there is always going to be something for Maxi to do.
He’ll be there to make sure it’s done the right way.
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