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Wagenson makes history by officiating in football state semifinal game

M.J. Wagenson, a member of the Rochester Area Officials Association, became the first woman in Minnesota to ever officiate a state tournament semifinal game in Minnesota.

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Basketball referee M.J. Wagenson has been officiating in Minnesota since 1987. In 2016, she became the first female ref to work a game in the boys state tournament. Last week she became the first woman to officiate in a state semifinal football game in Minnesota.
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M.J. Wagenson, who is a member of the Rochester Area Officials Association, made history this past week when she became the first woman official to work in the semifinals of a Minnesota State High School League state tournament football game.

Wagenson was part of the Rochester-based crew that officiated the Barnsville and Jackson County Central Class AA state semifinal game on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

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“It’s extremely exciting,” Wagenson said. “Anytime you have the opportunity to work a state tournament, no matter what sport it is, it’s an honor.”

Wagenson said the Minnesota State High School League “did a great job” of supporting the crews at the tournament. The only downside was the game had a 9 a.m. start and the officials had to be there by 7:30 a.m.

“It’s a crew effort,” Wagenson said. “There are five of us on the crew and we’ve worked hard to get there and do things the right way and serve our student-athletes in this corner of the state as well.”

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Wagenson was part of a crew that worked a state quarterfinal game last season.

The 61-year-old Wagenson is a native of Wisconsin. She moved to the Rochester area after graduating from Winona State University in the 1980s and currently resides in Plainview. She began to officiate in 1987 and currently works games for volleyball, football, softball and both high school and college basketball.

She was also the first woman in Minnesota to officiate in a boys basketball state tournament game, which occurred in 2016. She has officiated a number of times at the girls basketball state tournament, and the first time was in the early 1990s.

“It’s an honor any time you get selected to do that,” she said. "It’s just fun and exciting.”

Her fall was very busy as she worked two or three football games per week, some below the varsity level. She is done with football for this season, but already started officiating college basketball games several weeks ago.

She also teaches community education as well as driver’s education.

“There’s only so many nights in a week that you can do that,” Wagenson said of officiating.

During the summer, Wagenson still plays slowpitch softball and she used to be an avid racquetball player.

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With all the running Wagenson has to do, she has had to change her philosophy about training over the years to stay in shape.

“I said way back in the 80s that it (officiating) was exercise,” she said. “Now I exercise so I can officiate because the kids are all still the same age. When you step on the court, they’re still 15, 16, 17. So I work out every day and try to stay on top of it. As long as my body holds out, I’ll officiate.”

Wagenson said she still gets a thrill out of working games and enjoys all the people she meets. Some of the athletes that she called games for over the years have now become coaches, activities directors, teachers, or she said she encounters some in other aspects of life.

“It’s just a great network of people,” she said. “And it’s a fantastic way to stay involved with sports as well. And to see all the good things that they do to provide sports and sporting events for kids, it’s heartwarming.”

Guy N. Limbeck is a sports writer for the Post Bulletin. His Local Notebook appears each Tuesday. He can be reached at glimbeck@postbulletin.com .

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Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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