|From NB to NFL: The tireless journey of Jon Lucivansky|
The North Branch native has worked his way up from reffing mens league basketball in his hometown to the grandest stage of all: The National Football League
BY DAVE AMBERSNorth Branch native Jon Lucivansky's officiating career has deep roots. This writer remembers that Lucivansky was reffing Men's League basketball games while still a student at NBHS. Working games played by men in their 20's and 30's can be challenging. If memory serves, men in that age group, including me, did not always exhibit maturity and sportsmanship. Even then, it was apparent that Lucivansky had the ability and judgement to maintain his cool, not be intimidated and remain objective, all required of successful officials.
While a student in North Branch, Lucivansky played football, basketball, golf and baseball. After graduating in 1981, with the blessing of parents Dick and LaVonne Lucivansky, who currently live in Center City, Jon attended the University of Minnesota, earning a BA in psychology in 1987.
During his time as a student at Minnesota, the NB grad worked part-time as a minor league baseball umpire. He spent three years in single A games, calling balls and strikes in leagues from the Pacific Northwest and Southwestern Canada all the way to the Florida State League. His final season behind the plate was spent at the AA level.
After experiencing the lifestyle in the minor leagues, he decided to return to Minnesota in 1988 and pursue a career in education. He completed his elemntary education degree and took a job as a teacher in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He remained in Rice Lake for 12 years, eventually taking a position as a middle school principal. Job changes took him to Wisconsin schools in Eau Claire, Lakeland Union High School and New Richmond, where he is completing his second year as the Associate High School principal.
During his tenure in education, he has remained active in sports officiating. He reffed high school football and basketball games and, between 1988 and '98 he teamed up with a crew that worked small college footballl games in the MIAC and NSIC Conferences. "Looking back it, it was in 1998 that I got my big break," Lucivansky commented. "That year, I got into the North Central Conference which included schools like University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, Mankato and St. Cloud State. At the time, it was the the best non-division one conference in the country. At the same time, I applied to the Big 10. The NCC exposure was the key to getting to the Big 10."
That move to big time college football came in 2001. "I was fortunate enough to be on a very respected crew," the veteran referee continued. "We got a lot of high profile games. We worked the Texas-Ohio State game a few years back when they were number one and two in the country and we did the Michigan-Ohio State game when they were on top."
Once he was in the Big 10, the NFL started to take notice of his performance. In 2004, he started working pro games when the league took him to work NFL Europe games. In December 2008, "I got a call from Dick Pereira, the NFL Vice President in charge of officiating," Lucivansky added. "I went to Newark, New Jersey where I met with an NFL psychologist for two and a half hours." He also underwent more scrutiny that day, including an extensive computer-based analysis to help the league determine if he would fit into the "NFL Profile."
"Then, on January 5, a group of five of us met with Pereira in New York," Lucivansky said. The next time the NFL called was February 28. "Pereira told me they were going to bring me in on my first year. A group of eight of us are coming in this year," Lucivansky shared. "The last few weeks, I've been taking all kinds of tests - stress tests, eye exams and other medical tests." Since then, the rookie refs have been studying the NFL rule book, looking at film and doing everything they can to prepare themselves to call games the way the league wants them called.
"About May 15, we'll find out which crews we'll be with. After that, we'll participate in a three or four day clinic in Texas. Later, we'll work at NFL training camps, officiating at scrimmages. We'll each work four pre-season games and 15 regular-season games," the first-year pro explained.
Obviously, his "promotion" to Sunday games is a reward for decades of preparation and recognition of his on-the-job performance. In many ways, this move will make his life easier and less disruptive to his, and others, work schedules. "Most of the time, I'll be leaving for games on Saturday and be home Sunday night. I'll miss a lot less school."
True to his unasumming, confident persona, Lucivansky is humble regarding his accomplishments, pointing out that none of this would have been possible without the cooperation and support of the people around him. He noted that co-workers in the school districts he's worked in have always made it possible for him to miss some work by picking up the slack. He also indicated that he's been very fortunate to work with outstanding officials, making it easy for him to look good.
He feels that the family, community and school in North Branch provided the upbringing, and education that he needed to, eventually, get to his destination. He also pointed out that none of this would not have been possible without the support of his family. Wife Jaqueline, son Mark and daughter Mauela have always sacrificed so Lucivansky could pursue this dream.
Every NFL official is assigned a number, from 1 to 130, that they wear on the back of their striped shirts. It's likely that many of us will be watching for the "89" on Jon Lucivansky's back this fall. However, as soon as one of those questionable calls is made, some will probably also wonder how good the NFL eye doctors are.
After all, when things don't go the way we want them to, it has to be somebody's fault.
Lucivansky works his way into position to determine if this Brian Calhoun lunge was a touchdown or not.
Jon Lucivansky gets barked at by Wisconsin Head Coach Bert Beilema during a recent Big Ten game.
Lucivansky (Third from left) gears up to ref an intense rivalry game between Ohio State and Michigan in 2008.