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Local wrestling official to be inducted into Hall of Fame

Jim Ladbury (Photo courtesy of NDHSAA)

An athletic competition without a referee would be chaos. There would be a lot more arguing than action, for sure.

"Can you imagine a contest without an official?" asks former wrestling official Jim Ladbury.

"You got to leave it up to these teams to decide is that a right call or a wrong call. So you need officials. You need officials to do this, so I just kept doing it. I enjoyed doing it."

The importance of officiating is what drew Ladbury to the job over 40 years ago. Now, a few years after retiring, Ladbury is being inducted into the North Dakota Officials Association (NDOA) Hall of Fame.

Ladbury is the funeral director at Ladbury Funeral Service and lives in Dickinson with his wife, Janel. He said reffing wrestling was 'a nice diversion' from what he does for a living.

"As long as the time allowed, we made it work the best I could. With my job, it was always difficult," he said. "I kind of retired from it two years ago simply because I was gonna end up being alone here as a funeral director. It made it more difficult for me to commit the time. ... Hopefully, maybe I'll get back into it. Maybe eventually."

His career as a referee started in 1978 during his freshman year at Dickinson State College. To help out when the school hosted a high school tournament, Ladbury and his wrestling teammates were certified to officiate. Though many probably just used the certification that once, Ladbury continued officiating for years to come.

Through college, Ladbury said if he didn't have practice or a match, he would officiate high school matches, starting at the junior varsity level before slowly moving up to high school, and eventually college.

During a six-year stint of teaching and coaching — four years at Dickinson Trinity and two years at New England St. Mary's — Ladbury didn't don the striped shirt, but he couldn't stay away for long. When his family moved back to Dickinson in 1997, he officiated for his alma mater, Dickinson State. That same year, Ladbury officiated the NAIA National Wrestling Tournament at Jamestown. Primarily, he worked high school matches, though.

As many sports fans know, especially NFL fans at the moment, referees catch a lot of flak. Mostly at the professional level, people regularly debate calls that may seem 'obviously wrong' or 'missed' or 'biased.'

While Ladbury was never under that much scrutiny, he said he always approached his job with the utmost care.

"An official has to be fair," he said frankly. "You have to look at it like, what are the rules? The hard part can be when I'm officiating a match and I know these kids, (I) have to put that aside. Whether you were friends with their parents or these are people you know through work, you can't let that sway you. You have to make these calls the way it's supposed to be. Sometimes, of course, people didn't always agree.

"You're right half the time," Ladbury said with a chuckle. "Half the group likes what you call, the other half doesn't. ... It was in a split second you had to make those decisions. Did we miss some things? Probably so, but they were all done in fairness. Nothing was ever done maliciously."

Through the many years, close matches and tight calls, nothing stands out in Ladbury's head. Not for the sake of none of it being special, but because all of it was.

"I loved them all. Really I did. I enjoyed reffing," Ladbury said. "The nice thing is, there were some kids that I officiated and they became coaches, or they became parents and you were doing matches for those kids. You got to know these people."

Joining Ladbury in the 2018-19 Hall of Fame class is Randy Meyer, a wrestling official from Minot, and Tammie Coleman, a gymnastics official who resides in Minnesota.

Since its inaugural class in 1965, the NDOA has inducted 142 people into the Hall of Fame.