Wearing a familiar set of black and white stripes, Kroeker dressed for the 271st game of his Canadian Football League officiating career and his sixth Grey Cup on Sunday night.
“It was a thrill to work the last game of the year, which we always want to do just like the teams do,” said Kroeker.
But unlike those previous five appearances, the seventh grade teacher at St. Nicholas Catholic School was able to call Canadian football’s biggest game as crew chief.
Kroeker was selected by the CFL as the head referee for the 110th Grey Cup, an assignment for which the veteran official had been waiting years.
“It was a long road,” said Kroeker. “I started as a [CFL] referee in 2016 more or less full-time and I started at the bottom of the list. I had a lot to learn, I made a lot of mistakes and there was a lot of learning.”
“So it makes it even more gratifying coming from a spot where I was trying to be a head ref and not sure if I would stick, to now doing the biggest game.”
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Along with announcing all penalty calls and reviews to a national audience of around 3.7 million Canadians, Kroeker also led the Grey Cup’s ceremonial coin toss with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon — a process that caused Kroeker the most worry leading up to the game itself.
“That was the most nerve-racking leading up,” said Kroeker. “I didn’t get a chance to meet with the governor general to practice it just because a lot of things were going on and she wasn’t there. So when it came time, I had to just go through my routine. I wanted to make sure my hand wasn’t trembling when I was holding the coin.”
“Once that was over, I was OK.”
Saskatchewan’s representation in Hamilton wasn’t limited to the head referee, however, as Prince Albert product Troy Semenchuk was named to Kroeker’s officiating crew as well.
“Whether it’s pre-season, regular season, playoff game or Grey Cup, I’m always nervous before we kick off,” said Semenchuk.
“You feel that energy out there, it is nerve-racking. But once we kick off I tell myself, ‘Hey it’s just big kids playing a little kid’s game.’”
Semenchuk served as the game’s umpire, which included standing on the goal line for a pair of short-yardage touchdowns converted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
A veteran of 118 career games officiated in the CFL, it was the second year in a row in which Semenchuk had been chosen as Grey Cup umpire and marked another historic achievement for the duo.
“I don’t believe there has ever been a Saskatchewan tandem, referee and umpire,” said Kroeker. “Which I thought was awesome. Troy and I worked all year long together, we had a great chemistry together. He’s a great official and that made my job more comfortable being the head ref.”
That familiarity helped Semenchuk as well, pointing to numerous times in which Kroeker has helped guide younger officials across the province.
“It was really special to take the field with Tim and to look across at him and just think, ‘Man I’m super pumped that you got this,’” said Semenchuk.
Also a teacher at Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert, Semenchuk was also able to have his mother from Phoenix, Ariz., in attendance at the officials banquet Friday and the Grey Cup itself.
It’s an experience he doesn’t expect will fade anytime soon and one which he made an effort to soak in.
“I told myself during the game just when you get a chance stop, take a look around, take it all in,” said Semenchuk.
“Enjoy this moment, you never know if you’ll be back again. It does fly by so quick and it’s just an experience that I’ll always treasure.”
As for Kroeker, he admitted securing a second head referee appointment for a Grey Cup is challenging with the number of officials in the league wanting that same opportunity.
However, it’s a gig he’d jump at again and has no signs of leaving the officiating ranks following his time in Hamilton.
“All of them I enjoy,” said Kroeker. “I still love officiating, so it makes it even sweeter.”
The Alouettes defeated the Blue Bombers by a 28-24 final off the back of a last-minute touchdown throw by Grey Cup MVP Cody Fajardo to Tyson Philpot, winning Montreal’s eighth title in franchise history.
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