TWIN FALLS — Lonnie Ahlquist interacts with the same handful of people every week. But the conditions of their interactions vary, depending on which role he’s playing at the time.
Ahlquist has been the athletic director at Canyon Ridge High School for three years, and a referee for 12. During the fall, he spends about one night a week refereeing prep football games. During the winter, he takes to the hardwood two or three times per week to referee basketball games.
Several Magic Valley athletic directors coach football or basketball, and Ahlquist often officiates games in which their teams are competing. Whether or not the ADs are coaching, they’re in charge of paying Ahlquist for any game he officiates at their school.
It’s a tricky dynamic for both sides of the relationship, but both Ahlquist and several local athletic directors said the awkwardness is minimal, bordering on nonexistent.
“That’s professionalism,” Ahlquist said. “They understand that this is a different environment. It’s all business. We’re there to compete.”
Ahlquist is one of the only athletic directors in the state who also officiate; Laurie Howard of Castleford High School and Shayne Proctor of Madison wear both hats, as well.
Athletic directors have many duties, and some of them balance that job with coaching. Ahlquist has been Canyon Ridge’s athletic director for three years, and though he hasn’t strongly considered quitting officiating in that time, he’s significantly cut back his hours in stripes.
Ahlquist has officiated at every youth sports level, including all six of Idaho’s high school classifications (5A, 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A Division I, 1A Division II). Canyon Ridge competes in the 4A Great Basin Conference; Ahlquist has not shied away from officiating in-conference games.
He’s refereed varsity games featuring the Wood River football team, coached by athletic director Kevin Stilling; Jerome AD, Jeremy Munroe, coaches the Tigers’ girls basketball team, and Minico AD Ty Shippen is the Spartans’ varsity boys basketball coach. Ahlquist has worked some of their games too.
“I can do a basketball game for Minico,” Ahlquist said, “and the next day, I’m talking to (Shippen) about tennis schedules.”
Officiating GBC games is thorny for Ahlquist no matter who is coaching. Canyon Ridge games present obvious conflicts of interest, so he never works them. Some GBC games that don’t involve the Riverhawks can still affect them, such as a district tournament contest where the winner or loser will play Canyon Ridge in the next round, so he avoids those games too.
“My assigners are very careful as far as what games I work,” he said. “We don’t want to put anybody in the position where they have to defend the fact that I’m officiating a certain a game.”
Before he became athletic director, Ahlquist refereed about three football games and five to six basketball games per week. He wishes he could continue that workload, but his day job doesn’t allow it. Any time Canyon Ridge hosts a sporting event on campus, for instance, he must be present. That severely limits the number of games he can referee.
Ahlquist has developed relationships with several coaches over his 12 years as an official, and many have blossomed off the court. It’s natural for him to interact with those coaches differently than he would with those he doesn’t know, but he tries to treat everyone the same. Many coaches act the same way toward officials.
“With Lonnie there, I don’t really think of him as an AD,” Munroe said. “When it comes to the game, we put the AD aside. I’m a coach, and he’s an official.”
Ahlquist has made controversial calls in big moments of games coached by Shippen, Munroe and other ADs/coaches, and they have disagreed with several of his decisions.
Brian Hardy, the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Valley, remembered a call Ahlquist made last year during the third-place game at the 1A Division I state boys basketball tournament. Hardy doesn’t remember the details, but the play happened at the end of the first half, and he was not happy with Ahlquist.
“I gave him a little business,” Hardy said. “Next time I saw him, he said, ‘Are we good?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’re good.’ … It’s not a big deal anymore.”
Ahlquist, Hardy, Munroe and Shippen said that type of situation is common. They might be at odds for a quarter or an entire game, but when they see each other later in a non-game setting, the anger has worn off.
Veteran coaches such as Hardy don’t struggle to straddle their dual relationships with Ahlquist. They knew him as an official years before he became an AD, and that familiarity was an asset when he took the athletic director job three years ago.
“I had tons of respect for him already,” Hardy said, “because he’s a good official.”
UPDATE: The original version of this story did not mention Laurie Howard, who is also an athletic director and referee. The story has been updated to include Howard.