It was modern technology that helped Jill Czeck reconnect with wrestling – a sport the 2004 College of Saint Benedict graduate has loved going back to her days as the team statistician at New Prague High School in the late 1990s.
“I was the team statistician at New Prague, but when I was at Saint Ben’s, I never even thought about investigating the possibility of doing anything with the team at Saint John’s,” she said. “I had other stuff happening. Then after I graduated (college), I was doing my own thing. I might have occasionally gone to the state tournament to watch, but I had a job and a family so it was hard for me to get out to matches on a regular basis.
“But then schools started streaming matches. New Prague had some matches on Facebook Live, which was cool because I could watch from home with my kids around me.”
That, in turn, motivated Czeck – who lives in Lakeville and is the technical director at Tecnavia Press Inc. in Burnsville – to reengage further.
“I’ve always been a numbers person and I’m able to keep score in my head really easily,” she said. “I’d be watching these matches and they’d have the wrong score in the stream. You can’t blame them because they do an excellent job just getting the matches streamed. But I’d be frantically typing in the Facebook chat to let them know what the score should be.
“That made me think it might be fun to be a scorekeeper at the state tournament, so I contacted the Minnesota State High School League and they got me in touch with the person who is in charge of table workers,” she continued. “It turned out he’s the current athletic director in New Prague. He didn’t know me because I live in Lakeville now. But I made that connection and ended up getting the chance to work there in 2020.
“I sat next to an older gentleman, Rich Pohlmeier, who is still an active referee (but soon-to-be-retired), and he started talking to me about how girls wrestling is on the rise and there was a need for more women who could be out there on the mat with a whistle officiating.”
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic just weeks later, any such plans had to be put on hold. But Czeck was back at the scorer’s table at the state tournament in 2022, the same year girls competition made its debut.
And again, the prospect of her officiating came up. This time, she decided to go for it.
“Rich told me he had a tournament in New London coming up three weeks later and I should come up and try it out,” she said. “It was a youth regional tournament (kindergarten through sixth grade). I worked on the K-2 mat all day. I was really nervous, but Rich helped so much. He’d watch me, then give me one thing to work on after each match. I learned so much that day.”
And she continued to learn, working a handful of youth events and eventually getting certified by the MSHSL, joining Cami Snobl of Tracy as the only two women holding that distinction.
It was Snobl who provided the push Czeck needed to apply for certification when she asked her work an all-girls tournament in Hastings this past December.
“Cami called me last July and said the Hastings head coach was having an all-female tournament on Dec. 10 and he wanted women refs,” Czeck said. “She asked if I had signed up with the MSHSL yet. I said no, but that got the ball rolling. I was nervous about working that tournament, but Cami reassured me. She told me a lot of the wrestlers would be brand-new too, so we’d all be learning together.
“By the time that day rolled around, I had already officiated a few middle school competitions. I think it was my fourth event total. I was still nervous, but I had so much fun.”
According to the MSHSL, the number of high schools offering opportunities for female wrestlers doubled this past season. A total of 96 girls qualified for state tournament competition.
“What was so cool was watching how so many of these girls kept improving,” Czeck said. “There was a girl I saw in the tournament (in Hastings) who didn’t know how to put on an ankle band. I just saw her two weeks ago at the state tournament and she took third place.”
Czeck said her ultimate goal is to work events at the varsity level – both boys and girls.
“This past season was really enjoyable,” she said. “Right now, my focus is on improving and getting better each match I work. But one day, I’d like to be out there raising the hand of a state champion.”
Jill Czeck '04 directs two girls at a recent wrestling meet. According to the MSHSL, the number of high schools offering opportunities for female wrestlers doubled this past season. A total of 96 girls qualified for state tournament competition.