Dave Mueller of Neponset started officiating basketball in 1981, four years out of high school. He worked as many games as he could get, starting out at the junior high level doing boys and girls games. He got his big break serving as a runner for the established crew of Don Brady and Stan Peteson, working the freshmen and sophomore preliminary games.
He parlayed that into a prominent career in stripes, working state finals in two sports, capped by last weekend’s induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The induction was simply the icing on the cake for Mueller.
“It is a nice honor,” Mueller said. “When you first start officiating you have to set some goals and work hard to achieve those goals, being inducted into the IBCA is a normally not one of the goals you set. Working the state finals is a goal that you set, so being inducted is a bonus for all the years of hard work to be recognized by the coaches that you have worked for so long.”
In 1983, Mueller partnered up with fellow Neponset referee Jon Pickering when he lost his partner. They worked for several years until Pickering retired from basketball in 1998. They remain on the same crew for football.
Mueller sharpened his officiating skills at a college basketball camp in the Quad Cities, where his games were videotaped and critiqued by camp clinicians. That also sparked an interest in working some college basketball. But after a few years of officiating six days a week, he gave up to spend more time at home and attend some of the games his own kids were playing.
He says an official is unable to do his job “without an understanding and supportive family,” and he has been fortunate to have both.
In 1999, Mueller picked up Chuck Frail of Kewanee as a partner and has been working with him ever since. Appropriately, Frail joined Mueller for enshrinement Saturday. Along the way, they picked up Al Corwin of Sheffield as their third member of the crew, who worked his first state basketball finals this year.
Mueller, who serves as a basketball clinician for the IHSA, worked his first state basketball finals in 2002. He returned the next year and again in 2007. Mueller said the IHSA has an unwritten rule that you will only work the finals a certain number of times, “and for the longest time it was three and now it may not even be three.”
I asked Mueller about any funny stories he’s had over the years officiating. He’s had the usual assortment of unruly fans and upset coaches, but generally not a lot of problems because of his size.
He said he’s had to T some coaches up, once having to escort a coach from the gym for comments unsuitable for this family newspaper. The school’s superintendent called him the next day to thank him for how they handled the situation and let him know the coach was no longer their coach.
On one Friday night, after officiating a football game at Avon, they were driving home after and heard on the radio the officials who were suppose to work the game at Yorkwood did not show up, He said that crew turned out to be them and he had double-booked the crew.
“We went to work Saturday the next day for free,” he said.
Just for kicks, Mueller and Corwin like to work one of Ken Wilcoxen’s games at Bureau Valley North each season. Wilcoxen has officiated along side Mueller in football, whose crew has worked two State finals, as recent as 2012.
“They say they want to give me a technical before I retire,” Wilcoxen said. “I’m glad they got inducted. They both deserve it.”
After 33 years of officiating, Mueller can see the light at the end of his referring tunnel. He says he wouldn’t changed a thing.
“I have had a great time doing it and have made a lot of friends along the way,” he said, noting school administrators and fellow officials.
He encourages new officials to be patient and move up at the right time when they are ready.