DOUBLE DUTY: Fargo official Connor Dunn worked championship games in football and boys soccer this fall
December 15, 2020 2:00 pm
By Tom Mix
NDHSAA Media Specialist
FARGO – When it comes to officiating, Connor Dunn is a man for all seasons.
Dunn, a 25-year-old mathematics teacher at Sullivan Middle School in Fargo, has been a registered official with the North Dakota High School Activities Association since he was a senior in high school. The 2013 Fargo Shanley graduate has a diverse officiating repertoire in that he is registered to work soccer, football and basketball contests.
In the fall months, the officiating combo of soccer and football fills up Dunn’s schedule. This fall, Dunn had the opportunity to do something few officials get to do – work a championship game in two different sports in the same season. On October 10, Dunn worked as the center referee in the NDHSAA Boys Soccer State Tournament championship match at Fargo South High School and a month later worked as a head linesman during the NDHSAA Division AA Football Championship game at the FARGODOME.
“Working the boys soccer championship was something I thought might be expected, but getting the football state championship game was a complete surprise,” said Dunn, who has been a registered football official since 2016. “I thought I’d maybe get a playoff football game and be happy with that, but when I got the Dakota Bowl (football championship) assignment I was very excited.”
Making the right call
Dunn’s passion for sports dates back to his childhood. He played multiple sports growing up and competed in soccer, basketball and track and field while attending Shanley High School. Dunn was a member of Shanley’s 2013 NDHSAA Class A basketball state championship team.
In addition to playing sports, Dunn had an interest in the inner workings of the games so eventually officiating became something he began to take more seriously.
“I started officiating youth recreation league soccer matches when I was 13 years old as something to get a little money in my pocket, but as I progressed through playing soccer in high school I started looking at officiating as something I could really enjoy doing after I was done playing,” Dunn said. “I registered to work some matches in the spring season before I graduated and I thought to myself ‘this is perfect.’”
During the 2015-16 school year, Dunn got his first state tournament officiating assignments working both the 2015 NDHSAA boys soccer state tournament in the fall and the 2016 NDHSAA girls soccer state tournament in the spring.
Later in 2016, Dunn would add football to his officiating resume.
“My brother Dylan, who played football at NDSU, and I decided to give officiating football a try,” Dunn said. “We thought it was a good idea because we both enjoyed the sport and it would be a good way to spend some time together as brothers. I had quit playing football in the sixth grade to focus on soccer and I thought I still knew all the rules, but it was definitely a learning experience.”
Dunn accepted the challenge and within five seasons found himself working a state championship football game.
“The football rules book is a beast so I definitely needed to start from square one with getting a better understanding of the mechanics and rules,” Dunn said. “I’m still learning new things every game, which is really fun. With soccer you might see something you’ve seen a thousand times either as a player or an official, but with football every game usually has something happen in it that you may have encountered a few times or not at all.”
Veteran football officials were helpful to Dunn and his fellow crew members along the way. One veteran official – Ben Potter of West Fargo, N.D. – said he has enjoyed working with Dunn and is impressed with his ability to officiate multiple sports at a high level.
“Connor is a phenomenal official,” Potter said. “He is a master of the rule book and knows the rules inside and out. Connor has good field moxie in that his positioning is always spot on. I think that comes from his athletic background and his experience as a soccer official. His field awareness puts him in great positions to make the right calls on the football field.”
From the pitch to the gridiron
Potter recalls one weekend where Dunn was able to sub in on his officiating crew for a football game at Grafton High School, but the only catch was they had to pick him up in Grand Forks along the way because Dunn was officiating a Division I soccer match at the University of North Dakota.
This fall, Dunn worked an afternoon boys soccer state semifinal on October 9 at Fargo South High School and later that evening he worked a regular season Division AA, East Region football game between Central Cass and Hillsboro/Central Valley in Casselton, N.D. (20 miles west of Fargo). The next day he was back at Fargo South for the boys soccer title match.
Dunn said both sports require a very distinct set of skills in regards to officiating.
“Football and soccer both have their demands,” Dunn said. “I think soccer is harder physically. If you are the center referee you are probably running/covering six total miles per match. Football works the mental side of things. You have to be sharp, engaged and on top of a lot of things at once.”
Earning opportunities to work big games
Dunn has worked every boys and girls soccer state tournament dating back to the 2015-16 school year and in 2017 he was assigned to work his first state championship match as the center referee.
In football, Dunn has worked four NDHSAA playoff games in addition to the Division AA state title game on November 13 in Fargo – an assignment Dunn relished.
“Before the Division A football championship game ended, I took a lap around the field to let it all soak in,” Dunn said. “I thought to myself how big of an opportunity this was for me as a younger official and how fortunate we were to have a game to officiate, because that wasn’t the case in every state this fall.”