SIOUX CITY | Friday may be the last time the high school football officiating crew of Von Bornholtz, Rich Larson, Jack Schroeder, Dave Schonrock and Royce Ranniger suit up in their stripes and work a game.

OK, cue the sarcastic response. I tossed you the veritable softball.

"Well! It's about time!" (Rim-shot.)

As thousands of football fans read this and try to place faces with flags, I take this chance to thank all five for a job well done. Were it not for the referees, it would be impossible to hold these athletic contests, kids' games that become and remain goals and high-points for thousands of youngsters, their parents and fans from Wayne to Wallingford.

These five men rode in style last Friday night, Oct. 20, cruising north to Rock Valley, Iowa, for a regular-season finale in a stretch limousine, befitting men bowing out on their terms after a combined 186 years in one demanding autumn trade.

Their names, off-field jobs, positions on the field, and years of football officiating service follow:

Bornholtz, 67, a teacher at the Boys & Girls Home, is the crew's head linesman, with 43 years of officiating service.

Larson, 71, a comptroller at Sioux City Foundry, is the referee with the white cap (captain of the crew), and has 43 years in officiating.

Schonrock, 64, works for Anderson Brothers Printing, serves as line judge and has worked for 43 years as an official.

Schroeder, 69, a retired teacher who still toils as a substitute teacher and house painter, works as the umpire in the middle of the action, as he's done for 40 years.

Ranniger, 60, an administrator with the Sioux City Catholic Diocese, is the newcomer to the group, having worked for "just" 17 years, serving as back judge.

That's 186 combined years of service to high school football, a newsworthy run that could possibly end this evening after the final gun sounds at Hawarden, where top-ranked West Sioux hosts Sioux Central in a Class A first-round playoff game.

"I will miss it," said Larson, who has also officiated small-college football and basketball and high school basketball for decades. "But I realize it's time when I find myself thinking I'd rather stay home than go out in the elements."

Keep in mind that I spoke with Larson on Monday, in advance of forecasts calling for snow flurries Friday.

"It will be sad that we're all giving it up," said Bornholtz, who has bravely battled a form of cancer the past several years and undergoes treatments every month, either in Sioux City or at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "We have no regrets, though. We've had a great run and we've maybe reached that point where we're not as effective as we used to be."

Bornholtz seized the moment and jumped on his own line. "Of course, some would say we weren't very effective 43 years ago!"

Larson prepped at Brandon Valley High School in South Dakota, while Bornholtz and Schonrock are Leeds Lancers from Leeds High School in Sioux City. Ranniger said he played football, "but not very well" at Manning High School in Manning, Iowa. Schroeder, meantime, is the regional outlier, if you will, having moved to Lawton, Iowa, from Hampton, Iowa, one decade ago. Schroeder, a former prep at Crestwood High School in Cresco, Iowa, was a four-year member of the football team at Upper Iowa University.

"I remember one night a few years ago officiating a football game as Dowling played Valley in West Des Moines and there were 8,000 people at the game," Schroeder said. "The next night, we did a game between two small schools and there were 300 people in the stands."

Schroeder observed that contest on the second night meant just as much to those players, coaches, students and communities involved.

"What's neat is how much these guys, all of us, really, still like to dive into the rule book," said Ranniger, who worked a basketball scrimmage at Wayne State College on Wednesday evening. "These guys have been doing football for more than 40 years and they still get out the rule book to talk about something that maybe they've never seen before."

Though their knees, hips and backs may show the wear and tear of four decades of moving among teenagers on the gridiron, their minds remain keen as ever. All five are devoted to rules meetings and robust discussions of various scenarios and interpretations.

"I still go to clinics; you're never too old to learn," Schroeder said.

"We do our best to get it right," Bornholtz concluded. "That's why we're there. It's about getting it right for the kids on the field or the court. Secondarily, it's about getting it right for the coaches and the communities involved."

Schonrock will stay busy in the future evaluating officials for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. Ranniger will stay with his crew on the basketball court, while giving himself more time to get to University of Iowa football games on Saturdays in the fall.

All of them, they agree, will hang up the whistles and football cleats, opting now to spend a little more time at home, with their wives and family members.

"You think about all those games, that's 1,300-some nights in basketball and more than 400 nights in football," Schroeder said. "That's something like four to five years of being gone. You've got to have a very supportive wife and family."

And that's a point upon which all of them need "no further review," as they laud their support network, their biggest fans, notably, their wives: Shelley Larson, Vicki Bornholtz, Kris Schonrock, Denise Schroeder and Kathy Ranniger. As thousands of football fans bid these men farewell this evening, five women are, in a sense, making fall Friday night plans for the first time in a lonnnnng time.

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