As a longtime hockey official, John Hirzel, Jr., devised his own strategy to deal with countless irate and irrational coaches over the years — a simple, wry smile.
For 38 years, Hirzel officiated high school hockey games, including three state title contests.
Hirzel was one of two officials from northwest Ohio that earned induction Sunday into the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Officials Hall of Fame.
“I took pride in always letting coaches air their [grievances],” Hirzel said. “You give them a minute, and if they still don't like it, you smile at them. That drives them nuts. Every coach thinks their players are a bunch of angels. But the key is having good communications with the coaches.”
The lifelong Toledoan was honored along with Perrysburg’s Bill Wirick at the OHSAA hall of fame ceremony in Columbus.
Hirzel is the first hockey official to be inducted into the hall. He estimated that he has officiated more than 1,900 games.
“I enjoyed it. I loved the excitement of the crowds,” Hirzel said. “I did it for enjoyment of the game.”
Wirick, a former football coach at Bowsher and track coach at Libbey, was inducted posthumously. Wirick, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 84, was honored for his service as both a track and field official and basketball referee.
Wirick served 31 years as a track and field official following a distinguished coaching career. He also was inducted into the City League Hall of Fame as a coach.
Ron Schlievert, a fellow track and field official who was an assistant coach with Wirick at Libbey, called him his mentor.
“They called him Mr. Finish Line,” Schlievert said. “This was before they had photo electric cameras and electronic timing. Bill had a knack for knowing the places before the officials told him. He would have them lined up first through eight. That’s tough to do, especially in the sprints.
“He always kept a smooth control at the finish line,” Schlievert said. “He kept them relaxed.”
Hirzel, a graduate of Waite High School, relied on a similar relaxed manner.
Mike Hayes, St. John’s Jesuit hockey coach, described Hirzel as calm and consistent.
“He was a very good ref,” Hayes said. “He called it the same way for both sides. He has a very calm demeanor about him.”
Hayes said Hirzel officiated many of the biggest games of the year and was always steady.
“Coaches yell, and he laughs about it,” Hayes said. “It’s hard to stay on him for very long. He doesn’t take things personally. He was fun to work with.”
Hayes said he always appreciated Hirzel’s willingness to explain his calls.
“As a coach he will come over and talk to you and a lot of them don’t because they don’t want to argue,” Hayes said. “But he will always come over, and he will tell you what he did and why.”
Hirzel said the highlight of his career was officiating in an NHL venue at the state final four at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
“I was one of the first refs to officiate when it was moved to Nationwide. That was quite an honor,” he said. “It was amazing. My mom was there. That was pretty exciting.”
Hirzel, who officiated his last high school game two years ago, still refs senior league games at the age of 66.
Hayes, who also officiates hockey, said he has learned a lot from Hirzel and that he is a hall-of-famer in his book.
“It says a lot about him,” Hayes said. “He is a quality guy, and one of the nicest guys I know.”
Hirzel grew up in East Toledo playing hockey at the Sports Arena.
He played until he was drafted into the Navy in 1966. After he was discharged in 1970, he wanted to get back to hockey.
“I was a mediocre house player. But I could skate,” he said. “A buddy got me started officiating in a high school program at Ottawa Park, and I've been doing it ever since.”
Hirzel was a railroad track inspector for 38 years for CSX. He said he only officiated to have spending money, not for other financial reasons.
“My wife [Judy] and I went on vacations,” he said.
He said when he first started he would sometimes officiate seven games in one day.
Hirzel said he was among a group that helped get the sport sanctioned by the OHSAA in the early 1970s.
He said one of his proudest moments came in the 1990s when he coached in a state championship game between two Cleveland-area teams.
“The losing coach actually came up and shook my hand and said I called one heck of a game,” Hirzel said.
For Wirick, the induction into the OHSAA officials hall of fame followed a similar honor he received in 1980. He was selected to enter the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame.
Wirick led Libbey to 10 consecutive City League track and field championships beginning in 1952. He then became the first football coach at Bowsher in 1962. Wirick even chose the school’s colors.
Wirick began as a science teacher and coach at Perrysburg before embarking on a lengthy officiating career.
Schlievert said Wirick served 31 years as a track and field official. He moved to California but came back to officiate at league, district, and state meets.
Schlievert, who helped lead the efforts to get Wirick inducted, attended the ceremony on Sunday.
“It was an honor to be there because he worked so hard over the years. He contributed a great deal of time to sports,” Schlievert said.
Contact Mark Monroe at:
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