Gretchen Roufs' portrait“I’m a rogue and a renegade, except in church and on the ice,” said Chuck Ill, co-owner of Des Moines Sanitary Supply (DMSS), a Des Moines, Iowa-based jan/san distribution company.

On the ice? Chuck is a hockey referee. Not only is he the longest tenured referee in the state, he also has the most tenure as a coach and youth association board member. He referees games at all levels of amateur hockey, and is Supervisor of Officials for the United States Hockey League, the governing entity for all youth hockey in the country, including the USA Olympic hockey team.

Chuck was on the first hockey team ever formed in Des Moines, and says he was the worst player in the league. He stuck with it, though, and played hockey for years. Mike McCollum, a distributor sales representative for DMSS and a hockey official, convinced Chuck he should also become a hockey referee. Thirty-five years later, Chuck is still on the ice wearing the signature black-and-white stripes.

Officiating about 75 games a year, Chuck’s hockey schedule runs from October to March. Training and evaluating the younger referees is Chuck’s primary focus these days. “My main mission now is to be the elder statesman and train the youngsters. I work with these young referees so they can reach for the stars. Many aspire to have professional careers as officials in the National Hockey League,” said Chuck.

Eddy Ill, Chuck’s son, is one of those young referees. Eddy, a 16-year-old student, also works as a gym-floor specialist and in the warehouse at DMSS.

“Eddy is a smart guy, and I’m proud of him,” Chuck said. “He loves the game, and I think he’s got the talent to referee at the professional level.”

One of the things Chuck trains young referees to do is to correctly stop a fight. They learn to break up a fight head on, or side-by-side, but never from behind, because the players need to see that the ref is there. “Normally the players are relieved to see the referee because they really don’t want to fight. Most of the players are cooperative — unlike guys who fight in a bar,” Chuck said.

“My specialty is defusing anger and outrage,” said Chuck. To do so, he uses tactics that are both funny and serious. When he uses humor in a volatile situation, Chuck says, “I always know my audience.” He has a bag of tricks — literally — that he carries to hockey games. The bag contains all kinds of crazy things that find their way into Chuck’s referee uniform pocket, including false teeth, a laughing machine, a siren, a toy handgun, a sheriff’s badge, a pair of glasses with thick “Coke-bottle” lenses, and some things I can’t mention.

When a coach yells something like: “What’s the matter with you, Ref? Haven’t you read the rule book?” Chuck puts on the thick glasses. Once, during a game in an arena that was especially cold, a coach was hollering about a call that one of the refs made. Chuck skated over to the guy and tried to calm him down. He said, “Coach, I don’t know if you’re cold, but my hands are freezing. Would it be OK with you if I slip my hands under your armpits to warm them up?”

Chuck says the coach calmed down instantly, although I’m pretty sure Chuck had to wait until after the game to warm up his own hands.

Gretchen Roufs, a 15-year janitorial supply industry veteran, owns Auxiliary Marketing Services of San Antonio. To suggest someone you think should be featured in “freetime,” contact her at (210) 601-4572.