Craig Meinzer loves working on the chain gang.
Meinzer, the director of athletics and varsity baseball coach at Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School, has been a basketball official for 17 years and a football official for nine years. Two years ago he was approached about working the down-and-distance markers at Bowling Green State University home football games.
He jumped at the chance, and started working on the chain gang during the 2011 season.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “You get a great view of the game. You hear athletes talk about the speed of the game. Officiating high school games and being on the sideline for college games is a heck of a lot different. It’s a pretty neat thing to be able to see.”
The chain gang works on the home side of the BGSU field, meaning he gets to see the Falcons’ players and coaches interact during games.
“I get to pick up some good things on how they handle things,” he said. “You get to know the players and you start watching their games (on TV) when they’re away. You watch coach (Dave) Clawson and how he handles the sideline. He does a great job. A lot of that can translate to high school, too.”
As a high school basketball and football official, Meinzer does games within a one-hour radius of Toledo. He officiates in the City League, Northern Lakes League, Buckeye Valley Conference and Three Rivers Athletic Conference. He cannot officiate Toledo Area Athletic Conference games, of which Cardinal Stritch is a member school.
The pay range for officials is anywhere from $50-$65 per game, depending on the league or conference.
“I like doing it because I feel I’m giving a fair game for the kids,” Meinzer said. “I like it for the camaraderie with the other officials, driving to and from the games, and it is good exercise. For football, I was watching a buddy of mine (officiate) at St. John’s and thought, ‘I might want to do this.’ I was 36 when I started. I got into football (officiating) because I got out of coaching at the middle schools.”
Meinzer said he became a member of the BGSU football chain gang after Mid-American Conference officials contacted the university about “shoring up some of the stuff on the sideline with the chain crew,” Meinzer said.
“Bowling Green sent an email out to about 20 officials – I used to do the BG basketball camps in the summer - and I answered the email and said I would be very interested. I was selected as one of the six that works.”
Meinzer said he only works BGSU home games. The Falcons had five true home games in 2012 and played another “home” game on Nov. 23 against Buffalo at 20,145-seat Crew Stadium, home of the Columbus-based men’s Major League Soccer team.
Meinzer was on the chain gang during that game, which the Falcons won 21-7.
“It was interesting to see a football field nestled in the ‘pitches,’ as they call it, and seeing how it all fit in there,” Meinzer said. “Bowling Green did a great job and brought in bunting for around the field and the upper bowl. They made it as much of a home game as they could. They had their (school) flag hanging from the flag pole. They did a nice job bringing people in.”
Meinzer said members of his chain gang earn $35 a game.
“You definitely don’t do it for the money,” he said, adding that he has come within a couple yards of being run over during a play.
“You learn how to get out of the way,” he said. “A couple other guys have been run over — I’m sure everybody gets it sooner or later — but I haven’t gotten run over yet. Your biggest fear is the players are behind you, and if they don’t move, you can’t move.”
Meinzer said other BGSU chain gang members from the Toledo area include Scott Williams, Jim McDermott, John Wismer, Ron Lazer and Don Heston.