Recently, the Brainerd native and basketball official was honored by the Minnesota States High School League with the Officials Service Award.
“I’m pretty humbled by this,” Ruen said. “We started with nothing and we developed it into a well-respected officials association in this area. It’s a big honor.”
Ruen was the cofounder of the Mid-Minnesota Officials Association in 2006 with Greg Snow. He’s served as an MSHSL registered official for 29 years as well as one of the Mid-Minnesota trainers and mentors. He recruited and trained the first female official in the Mid-Minnesota Officials Association three years ago.
“My heart is overjoyed for that man,” Snow said. “Nobody works harder at it than Kevin. He had to work double to get where he got in the officiate world because he didn’t have a basketball background. He would get up at three in the morning and I would have three or four emails from him. The dude just deserves it.”
One of those referees Ruen mentored was Scott Kimman.
“He’s been great for myself,” the now veteran official Kimman said. “He’s taught me a lot on how to deal with coaches and we have learned a lot through the years.
Kimman pointed out most of the work Ruen does behind the scenes.
“He works with the school and gets the contracts from the ADs,” he said. “He deals with the ADs and whether there was an issue with the coaches and making sure everything is taken care of.
“He really deserves this award. He’s such a big part of what this group does. The hours he puts in. Sometimes he’s texting me at 6 a.m. the schedule changes.”
Ruen and Snow started the Mid-Minnesota Officials Association to try and get more games. By 2010, when Snow left it in Ruen’s hands, they had to start turning down games.
“We made some connections and we put together a game plan with who we had as contacts,” Snow said. “Our first year we probably had 25 games and then by the time I left we were turning down games. We had it clicking with 12 to 15 officials working for everyone and Kevin did it.”
When the association first started, every Friday night after the games they used to meet at Poncho and Lefty’s where Ruen would walk through situations with the younger officials.
“We really built a lot of comradery with the group and learned as a group from those goofy situations,” Kimman said. “Kevin really took me under his wing and taught me a lot.”
Snow added the Poncho and Lefty’s visits became story time about the week of games. It also built friendships with the group.
“We had guys who would lie to their wives to come be a Poncho’s with us,” Snow said. “It got us all better at plays and situations.”
The people Ruen has met in his years as leader of the Mid-Minnesota Officials Association make it worth it.
“It’s the quality people you just come across,” he said. “Complete strangers turn into life-long friends.”
Ruen is big on mechanics, which is one of the ways he helped Kimman.
“I truly believe you can look better than you are if you have good mechanics,” Kimman said. “We are out there to manage the game and not be the show.”
Ruen has had the pleasure of officiating six state tournaments, including a championship game. He refereed the 2014 Class 2A girls state championship game between New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Kenyon Wanamingo at Williams Arena.
“That place was just rocking,” Ruen said. “The Barn was full and it was a good competitive game.”
The biggest thrill for Ruen is seeing referees he’s mentored officiating the state tournament.
“That gives me more joy or a sense of accomplishment than the individual stuff,” he said. “One of our great examples is we got our first woman. I reffed with her during her first varsity game, and I did her first boys game with her and then her first playoff game with her. When you see other people develop it’s neat.”
Kimman credits Ruen for allowing younger and newer officials to work section playoff games.
“When opportunities are earned by younger officials, like say myself, in the early years you get rewarded,” Kimman said. “That’s one of the biggest compliments to Kevin. He’ll push for his guys.”
CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.