When it comes to eastern Montana football, Fairview resident Ken Bergenheier is never the center of attention, but he is often in the middle of the action.
Bergenheier, 63, has been officiating eastern Montana high school and junior high football games for more than 30 years.
It’s far from a glorious job. Officials rarely get noticed unless they make a mistake. But Bergenheier enjoys being involved in the games and giving back to the community.
“I’ve always been interested in sports,” Bergenheier said. “It’s a way to be involved in sports and give back to what you’ve been given.”
During football season, he typically referees three to five games a week, traveling as far west as Glasgow and Miles City to officiate games.
Bergenheier, a native of Rapid City, S.D., got his start as a referee while teaching at North Sargent School in Gwinner, N.D., his first job after graduating from Concordia College. The school’s principal asked for volunteers to officiate the school’s junior high football games and Bergenheier answered the call.
After teaching in Gwinner for four years, Bergenheier and his wife decided to move to Fairview, where he was hired to teach high school and junior high music. In Fairview, Bergenheier continued to ref junior high games and eventually signed up for a Montana Officials Association membership. Once he was certified, Bergenheier was put in the Sidney officials pool and began to ref high school games every weekend, something he has enjoyed doing ever since.
Among the highlights of Bergenheier’s officiating career have been the five state championship games he has refereed, including last year’s Class C six-man state title game between Savage and Denton.
He has also officiated basketball and volleyball games, but football is his favorite, in part, because he finds it is the easiest sport for officials to do their jobs.
As a football referee, Bergenheier only focuses on the action around the quarterback, while the sideline officials take care of the action downfield.
“It’s easier to focus on your one area and maintain what you’re supposed to be doing and get it right than other sports,” he said. “You do a better job because you’re isolating what you’re doing to one area instead of having the whole thing.”
When he is not on the field, Bergenheier enjoys watching games as a spectator. He attends as many Fairview sporting events as he can and also makes a point to see several Williston State College basketball games every year.
“It’s one of those things that’s kind of relaxing and it’s fun to watch the officials do the college games,” he said.
After retiring from his full-time teaching job at Fairview High School in 2000, Bergenheier spent the next 10 years as a half-time teacher at East Fairview Elementary School, before retiring from that job in 2010.
He keeps himself busy playing trumpet in a brass quintet and, of course, refereeing football games. He isn’t sure how much longer his officiating career will last, but he says he will do it as long as he can keep up with the action.
“As long as my legs will let me run, I’ll do it,” he said.