O’Leary eager to take down state wrestling assignment
Russ O’Leary has reached the pinnacle of his profession.
The Milton resident was selected to officiate the WIAA state individual wrestling tournament, beginning today at the Kohl Center in Madison.
O’Leary will be making his first state appearance and is one of 15 officials selected to work the three-day tournament.
“I started packing yesterday (Monday),” O’Leary said. “That’s how excited I am about the opportunity.
“When I first got into refereeing 15 years ago, I always thought what a privilege it would be to work at state. And now I’m getting the chance to do that.”
WIAA deputy director and soon-to-be executive director Dave Anderson informed O’Leary of his selection in early February. O’Leary was graded after each dual meet he officiated during the season on a scale ranging from 1-to-6.
A grade of six was the highest on the scale, and meant each competing coach felt the referee was worthy of officiating at the state-meet level. O’Leary also will be graded on his performance at state, but will not work any of the final matches on Saturday night because this is his first state appearance.
O’Leary wrestled in high school, but got away from the sport until his brother, Bill, became an assistant at Janesville Craig High School and eventually the head coach. Russ started following the team to various dual meets and tournaments, and his interest in officiating piqued at a tournament in the Milwaukee area.
“I remember there was one particular tournament about 15 years ago where I didn’t think much of the officiating,” Russ said. “I said to my brother, and (head coach) Joe Kaster, I think I could do better than that. They agreed, and that’s how I got going.”
Russ considers himself a fair and open-minded official, who always puts the wrestlers first. His No. 1 goal for each match is to have both wrestlers walk onto the mat and walk off the mat—putting an emphasis on safety.
“I’m maybe a little too open when it comes to my so-called style as a referee,” O’Leary said, “because I’m not afraid to tell a kid or a coach why I called something a certain way or why I awarded points in a certain situation.
“Fortunately, most of the time when I have to explain why I called something the way I did—especially to the coaches—they understand and agree with my decision. It’s a matter of being fair.”
Being fair and being very good at what you do. Those two things have taken Russ O’Leary to the top of his profession.