skip navigation

"Say it loud and sell it to the crowd." The Schroder Family of Officials

By Bill Berg Jr, WiPH Staff, 03/26/24, 9:45AM CDT


If you live in the Wausau area it wasn't an uncommon sight, but having a single-family officiating crew cover the WIAA girls’ championship game on March 2nd was a rare treat for Wisconsin hockey fans. With father Bryan Schroder working as the linesman and sons Ryan and Brandon taking on the officiating it was a journey twenty-seven years in the making.

To top it off, the crew had to make the unenviable decision to disallow a goal for the Bay Area Ice Bears who had two players in the crease. "It is tough, but that's were doing it for 27 years helps tremendously," said Ryan. "I'm on the headset and I said, 'I want a different angle' and they said, 'This is what we've got from the truck.'"

When asked what he saw on the play. "I wanted to see if it was kicked in because if I've got two reasons to tell the coach that is even better. We got a second angle. We could see it was definitely off a skate but not kicked in. But two girls were in the crease and weren't held there by the Storm player. It definitely stopped the goalie from playing her position," Ryan said. "I went over and talked to Joey [Bay Area Coach Joe Gerarden]. He said he was going to look at it after the game, but I just explained that I took my time, and we didn't rush through this. Joey was good about it."

It wasn't the first time that Ryan was involved in replay disputes at State. "In the year before Covid, I think, I was actually the video reply guy at the Alliant Energy Center, and we waived off two goals in that championship game between I think Notre Dame and Verona. It's just part of the experience, and those conversations are always hard, but it helps when the coaches understand that we know what we're doing and we're not out there to get anybody."

"Ultimately, you have to take some sort of pride in standing with your call, and being confident," brother Brandon added. "At the state tournament, we were fortunate to have the video replay to disallow that goal. But if you don't have the video replay, we have to communicate on the ice, and you have to pick a call. You have to take pride in it to make sure you can live with going home that night knowing you made the right call in your opinion. When you go to video replay it is completely different, you can see it multiple times at different angles, and you have an easier time making sure you get the correct call. In a regular season game, in a sectional final game, you've got to own up to it and make sure you do the best that you can. Everything comes to pride and making sure we're putting a quality product on the ice every time we step out there to ref a game."

"That's where doing it for 27 years helps tremendously," said Ryan. "Obviously you can't do that in year one. That's where having mentors to guide us was important."

So how did the family end up reffing the girls’ championship game in the first place?

"Dad's been reffing WIAA for 26 years. I'm on year 20, and Brandon's on year 18," said Ryan. "We thought it was time, and we put a bug in dad's ear last year or the year before and that put the wheels in motion and this year it happened."

And that 26 years for father Bryan is just in the WIAA. He was a Wisconsin Hockey Officials Association regional director for 25 years, so he's been officiating USA hockey for more than 30 years. He started officiating soccer when he was just 12 years old. When asked how the family's hockey journey started Ryan told us, "I brought home a flyer from school in second grade and said, 'I want to try hockey.' Ever since then it's just been non-stop. Dad and mom put us in hockey that year and we were still outdoors in Merrill, so we were traveling to Tomahawk and Medford. Dad probably started reffing a year or two after that because we needed guys."

"I coached when the boys were squirts and mites, but we had enough coaches and needed referees, so I switched to the referee side," said Bryan. "Somebody said, 'He we could use some referees and I said I'd give it a shot. I started and got into the eventually got into the Great Lakes Hockey League and I figured if I could do that, I could do high school."

Taking a cue from dad's journey through youth soccer officiating the boys each started reffing when they were 11 or 12.

"For me it was the extra ice time," said Ryan. "A lot of guys nowadays say it is the money, and the money is nice, but for me I just loved being on the ice. So, for me it was that, and the other guys that were reffing in town too were fun to be around and they wanted more guys to come out and have fun. I was counting it up today, I started when I was 11 and now, I'm 38 so I'm on 27 years myself, and now 20 in the WIAA. I was following in dad's footsteps. It was a little bit a money and a lot of ice time. It was a great way to get a couple extra ice touches."

"Mine was the same thing," said Brandon. "Just following those footsteps. Part of mine was the factor of being able to be 12 years old and take a facemask off and be on the ice without a mask. I just thought it was really neat. And following dad and Ryan was a younger brother. And then we got to work all of us together at state, it all came together."

"I know my daughter, and I assume Brandon's son are both going to start reffing next year," Ryan said. "I so I think we can get five Schroder's on the ice all at once."

"That's kind of it now too for us," Ryan said. "Dad got to do it with us, and now grandpa's going to get to ref with the grandkids, and Brandon and I will get work with the niece and nephew. We'll all get to work together. It has been a long time coming, and it's going to get more fun than ever."

Over the years the WIAA has gone back-and-forth about having officials work in crews or assigning different officials to games. We asked how that dynamic affects officiating.

"A few years ago, they had us in crews where we worked with the same people 100% of the time. It went back to that last year a little bit, more so this year as a crew," said Brandon. "I think they've started doing it more now because it is easier. If I'm the WIAA I can send the Schroder crew to a game and have all three positions covered."

"I can see the goods and bads of that situation," Brandon said. "If everybody works together with the same people you don't get that experience of seeing or hearing something different from another official, but you also get a type of consistency where I know when Ryan's going behind the net, I need to shuffle across, or I know he's going to cover that blueline without even having to check, or I know dad's going to cover if I get bumped off the line. It is good and bad in my eyes."

"We're consistent, and we know what we're going to do," said Ryan. "In some capacity, Brandon and I have been reffing together for 27 years. The flip side of that is that we like to work with the newer guys sometimes to help develop them."

"I got to work with Thomas Brown a couple times this year and it is good," Ryan said. "He's younger, he's less experienced, but I know he's capable. When both our hands go up at the same time, he gets a confidence boost. When my arm goes up and his doesn’t, he asks 'what did he see that I didn't.' That's the downside to crews. We constantly try to get guys to work with younger guys to mentor them. In our ranks in the Wausau Area, I'm still considered one of the young guys and I'm 38!"

"That isn't great news for us around here," Ryan added. "We have to make sure we're mentoring the young guys, so they keep going. If the young guys are only reffing JV and nothing else, we're never going to get them state-tournament-ready or regionals-ready. That's one thing that hurts us working together. As much as we love it, we'd also like to work with other guys. Even to see things from another perspective."

"I worked about half my games with other people this year," Bryan added. To which Ryan responded, "That's because you worked twice as many as we did."

"That's true," said Bryan. "I got to work with the new guys too. You get those opportunities and it’s good to be able to talk to those young refs."

So, what were things like at home when Ryan and Brandon decided they wanted to ref like dad?

"Everything at home when we were talking about officiating was always very encouraging," said Brandon. "There was never any 'I don't know if you're ready for it.' It was always, 'Yeah, let's go see what we can do.' We'd communicate on the way home after the game. There was never any communication that was that we weren't ready, it was always, 'Let's get out there and do this together.'"

"We both of these guys were little, we had Ryan Annis and other guys that were all level 3's and higher," said Bryan. "So, I'm learning from them, and they're working with the boys. We're all learning from an experienced official who is working upper-level games Then I got into the WHOA and I started working with even more experienced guys and I'm learning from them and I'm bringing it back to Merrill."

"To dad's credit, from Merrill in our time we produced Ryan Ourada who worked an NCAA Frozen Four, and us, and we've both worked national tournaments, and we've got Johnny Annis and he's worked the women's Frozen Four multiple times, and he's worked men's NCAA quarterfinals," said Ryan. "All from little old Merrill, we've still produced 4 officials that he's helped mentor that have officiated beyond high school hockey."

"Officiating has taken me more places than I'd ever have dreamed of as a player," Ryan said. "I was too small to play juniors, sure I could have gone and lost some teeth at a junior C team somewhere. I was too small to play but I was never too small to ref. Dan Kassis is a testament to that."

"Reffing has taking me to Boston, Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, all over Iowa, Minnesota, Texas," Ryan said. "I got to ref the US National Paralympic Team. I've gotten to do national tournaments for that group and some on the traditional hockey side."

"Brandon's the same thing," said Bryan. "He's in Philadelphia working this weekend."

When you're officiating, you see the game differently than you do as a player or coach. How did officiating help them develop as hockey players?

"I was a B/C player," Ryan said. "I was a C player most of my youth career until Bantams when Merrill only had one team. By the time I got to high school, I got called up to play varsity minutes as a sophomore because one of our defensemen got hurt. I had guys who were A players all those years that were definitely ahead of me, but by the time we got to high school, I caught up because I was on the ice all the time. I didn't do hockey camps; I did ref camps. We went and power skated with our stripes on for three hours and it helped me in my playing career."

How do we get more refs into the game, the ref shortage has been going on for quite some time?

"We took my peewee B team down to a Pointers game that I reffed with Brandon and they watched. It was Schroder, Schroder, Peters and Peters for that game. They knew coach Ryan and coach Brandon were on the ice. I had 11 kids on my team, I imagine I'll have six of those that sign up for reffing next year," Ryan said.

"More than 1/2 the officials get turned away according to USA hockey because of the abuse," said Ryan. "But I showed the kids that the game is fun from different perspectives. Those kids got to see us doing something different. It is about being active in those places where kids are."

"Ryan was president of Merrill hockey last year and he got me back into scheduling officials here in Merrill," said Bryan. "And we got a good group, and we worked when them when they were adults and they were level 1s and 2s and now we've got a handful that are 3s and I think they're going to do it for a long time. They're having fun on the ice, they're serious about what they're doing but their still having fun. That is part of the whole mentoring thing. Get some of the adults out there to help out the kids to learn refereeing just like coaches would in the game."

WiPH Exclusives

The following is an area for discussing views on this story. Comments that are derogatory, make personal attacks, are abusive, or contain profanity or racism will be removed at our discretion. WiPH is not responsible for comments posted by users.

Please also keep “woofing,” taunting, and otherwise unsportsmanlike behavior to a minimum. Your posts will more than likely be deleted, and worse yet, you reflect badly on yourself, your favorite team and your conference.