Mitchell Habiger was taking a Grassroots Referee Online soccer class through February for three weeks straight at Neosho County Community College’s Chapman Library. His hard work had finally paid off, scoring a 98 percent out of a 100 on the test.
After his testing was complete, Habiger, with the assistance of his mother, Linda Harris, journeyed over to the Overland Park Soccer Complex on March 7 to achieve something he had wanted for three years. A procession of about 30 newly certified referees were awarded referee flags. The novel referees proceeded to walk inside a classroom full of seasoned referees and were rewarded US Soccer Federation 2020 Referee badges, symbolic of becoming a new referee, with Habiger specifically certified to officiate any soccer game with participants 14 years of age or younger.
“I was happy because all of the hard work had finally paid off to do that because each weekend I spent three hours because of all the reading and videos and everything,” Habiger said. “So I was just really happy having all the hard work pay off.”
That also led to Habiger becoming the first-ever official soccer referee in Chanute, the only Chanute native to be awarded the US Soccer Federation Referee badge.
But history isn’t something Habiger is harping on; rather, the Royster Middle School eighth-grader was concerned with being able to officiate a game he has loved since he was five years old.
“I wanted to kind of learn and understand the game a lot more than I already did and just have more of a passion for the sport,” he said.
Habiger, 14, developed a passion for soccer when he started playing in first grade for the Chanute Recreation Commission. The past two years, Habiger has been a part of championship teams in the sixth- to eighth-grade age group, coached by Los Angeles native Ricardo Vargas – a coach Habiger has been familiar with since fifth grade. Vargas has been a Chanute resident since 2006.
Being successful in the game of soccer all started with how Habiger was raised. His mother said she did her due diligence in instilling in her son at a very young age that it is important to pursue dreams.
“I told him that he can do anything he sets his mind to,” Harris said. “If he wanted to do it, then he could do it, just got to make the steps to do it.”
Habiger started those first steps in first grade, after seeing the game from his point of view for a year or so. But having the propensity to methodically pay attention to details and the work habits needed to excel at the game were learned through his brother, Cameron Harris, who is 10 years older than Habiger.
Cameron Harris, who signed a petition in 2012 to have a soccer team at Chanute High School after playing the game himself, was instrumental in showing Habiger kicking techniques outside of their Chanute residence.
Habiger, however, wanted something even more: to officiate. For the last three years, he was bouncing the idea of refereeing off of his head coach Vargas, and when the idea was finally brought up, Harris said she wasn’t exactly Habiger’s number-one cheerleader.
“At first, I really wasn’t thrilled because I know how he gets nervous and it makes him sick to his stomach … so I was worried about the stress,” Harris said. “But at the same token, after he got in it, I’m more worried about him dealing with the same parents, getting mad and hollering at him and that stress amount.
But he says, ‘I don’t have to ref, Mom. If I don’t want to, I don’t have to. This way I know the game better and I can if I want to.’ I’m like, ‘Okay.’”
Habiger was given his mom’s blessing after demonstrating to her all the ins and outs of refereeing, and how each rule applies to the game. And so the journey to refereeing began.
Habiger and Harris researched the process of online classes all the way up to receiving a referee badge after successfully completing the course. February rolled around and Habiger waltzed through the exam with flying colors.
Vargas was also in attendance at the Overland Park Soccer Complex referee ceremony. With joyous smiles on their faces, watching Habiger accept the referee badge enchanted both Harris and Vargas.
“I am really impressed,” Vargas said. “FIFA is the world, better than UN, and Mitchell Habiger is like another kid on this planet having an opportunity of success in this life. I love Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and America’s continents. Simple: ‘Feel and love the passion of futbol.’”