- Associated Press - Friday, July 7, 2017

EUDORA, Kan. (AP) - Jimmy Kegin says his decision to hire Braeden Herron as a youth league soccer referee was no big deal.

“I didn’t even think twice about it,” the assistant director of the Eudora Parks and Recreation Department told the Lawrence Journal-World (https://bit.ly/2uu6jAb ).

Braeden’s mother, Gretchen Herron, disagrees with Kegin’s assessment. His decision to hire her 16-year-old son to officiate matches in the Eudora Parks and Recreation spring pre-K and kindergarten soccer league was very meaningful, she said. It helped break down barriers for the boy, who was diagnosed as a 6-year old with high-functioning autism.

“I actually cried when he hired Braeden,” she said. “I can count the number of birthday parties he’s been invited to on one hand.”

In the spring, Braeden told her he wanted a job refereeing soccer, Gretchen Herron said.

Braeden processes things differently from everyone else,” she said. “So when he told me he wanted to ref, I knew he had made up his mind.”

She approached Kegin about the request, and found him open and supportive. Kegin included Braeden in text strings to referees, sent him weekly schedules and offered him rides if his parents had conflicts, she said.

Refereeing soccer in the entry-level league is “like herding a bunch of cats,” and requires patience and knowledge of the game, Kegin said.

“Referees first and foremost have to know names, interact with the kids and make sure they don’t get hurt,” he said. “Referees are half coach, half referee.”

Braeden does know the game. He started playing in the Eudora Parks and Rec soccer leagues when he was five-years old. He was on the Eudora High School junior varsity team as a freshman last fall.

“At the end of the year, he was voted the team’s most improved player,” his mother said. “We were very proud of that.”

He played basketball, but never got very good at it, Braeden said. Baseball doesn’t have enough motion, and he doesn’t even enjoy watching his 14-year-old brother play the game, he said. Soccer provides the action he wants.

“I like running a lot,” he said. “I just like going after the ball. I usually play forward, midfield and defense.”

For Braeden, officiating the novice soccer players was a chance to give back.

“I thought since I got to play soccer, I thought I’d help little kids play, too,” he said. “Since I’ve been playing a long time, I thought I could help them play well.”

Braeden was dedicated to the job, Kegin said. The teen showed up for all the training sessions and never missed a match in the spring league. Kegin said he took the normal precaution of placing another official on the field with Braeden for his first couple of matches and then determined he could handle the task by himself.

He was a little nervous for his first solo time on the pitch officiating the cat-herding chaos of entry-level youth league soccer, Braeden said.

“They kept saying it was their ball even when it was the other team’s ball,” he said. “More kids kept popping up on the field than there should have been.”

He didn’t have to use his yellow or red cards during the season, Braeden said. The young players fell down frequently, on their own or from collisions, but didn’t play with the aggression of older athletes.

He did take some criticism from parents on the sidelines about the time he took to make side-out calls, but his focus was on making the right call, Braeden said. He and his mother said he improved during the season. Braeden said his improvement came from understanding where he should be on the field and how to move in relation to the players. His mother said it was in his decisiveness.

“He got louder and blew the whistle harder,” she said. “He was more of a presence.”

Braeden said he would like to officiate again in the fall if he has time. His mother is confident he will and again expressed thanks at the opportunity Kegin provided her son.

“He’s a good guy who shows confidence in those who may lack it in themselves,” she said. “For Jimmy to let Braeden go out there and grow, it makes me proud.”

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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