Referee Hulin hangs up cleats after 50 years
A high school football fan would be desperate to find a football field in Northwest Illinois, chances are that Don Hulin has blown his whistle and dropped a flag on it. Hulin ended his fifty-three year officiating career just the way he wanted to, refereeing a fresh/soph game in Oneida, Illinois between the Mid-County Cougars and the Ridgewood Spartans on Monday, April 19th.
Hulin and his crew including Dave Mueller, Al Corwin, Mike Pillan, and Nick Welgat have officiated everything from junior football leagues all the way up to the varsity high school level. The crew have refereed over 75 state playoff games including two championships in 2007 and 2012. “It has always been about two things,” Hulin observed looking back at his storied career, “being around the kids and working with this crew of officials.”
A Cambridge High School graduate in 1965 Hulin was a three sport athlete competing in football where he was an all conference linebacker intercepting seven passes, two for touchdowns in his senior year, basketball, and track where he was part of a school record setting mile relay team. It was football however where Hulin’s heart was founding the Cambridge Youth Football program. He was inducted into the Cambridge Hall of Fame in 2007.
Hulin began officiating in the fall of 1968 as a twenty one year old. Along with football he has served as an official in basketball and baseball both of which he stopped in 2000. It has been football however where Hulin’s heart lies. “99.99% of the coaches and athletes have been great to work with, I’ve been knocked down and the kids are always there to pick you back up.” In his final varsity game in Hall who was playing Rockridge, the middle linebacker stopped towards the end of the game and asked to shake Hulin’s hand and thank him for his years of service on the field, “that’s why we’ve done it for so long,” Hulin pointed out with a smile.
Over the years, he and his crew have officiated players he remembers who have gone on to play major college ball as well as making it to the NFL. The biggest changes he has seen in high school football over the years has been in the size and strength of the athletes, “some of these kids play so fast that you can’t help but get caught up watching them in amazement.”
A lot of great moments have happened right in front of Don Hulin, “the state championship in 2012 was so cold and windy I literally had to straddle the football to keep it from blowing across the field. His funniest memory was in the middle of a Galesburg versus Rock Island Alleman varsity game he was knocked out when he was run over by the fullback.
“When I woke up I saw two people standing over me, the athletic trainer and the priest from Alleman!
Hulin’s advice for those thinking of going into officiating, “go for it, give it a shot. Don’t take comments personally, know you are going to make mistakes, it’s part of the game.”
For Hulin, his relationship with football, while slowing down, is not over with hanging up his whistle. He has been in charge of the football field for the Ridgewood Spartans and will continue to that for the time being.