Marko Alexander has been a sports official in Central Oregon for more than 30 years.
So long, in fact, that he is now officiating games being played by the children of players whose games he officiated early in his career.
“That can be interesting sometimes, seeing how they’ve grown up,” Alexander says with a laugh.
Over the past 32 years, Alexander has rarely said no to an officiating assignment. He has mostly refereed soccer, but he also works basketball, softball and baseball games.
Alexander, 58 and a longtime Bend resident, was selected as the soccer official of the year for 2018-19 by the Oregon Athletic Officials Association. He figures the award has much to do with his availability to ref any game during a time in which officials are hard to find for Oregon high school sports.
“Being available is a big deal, to go to lots of games,” Alexander says. “And punctuality, appearance, and not to mention common sense.”
A longtime construction contractor who is now semiretired and a grandfather, Alexander has been able to schedule his own work hours, giving him time to hit the road to ref soccer games throughout Central Oregon and sometimes beyond.
“Whatever needs to be filled, I’ll jump in there and do it,” he says. “I’ve definitely been blessed to be able to do that.”
Mehdi Salari, commissioner of the Central Oregon Soccer Officials Association, says Alexander has probably officiated more games in Paisley — a small outpost in Lake County and a two-hour-plus drive from Bend — than anybody in the region.
“What has made Marko indispensable is that he’s been willing throughout all the years to cover games no matter where, no matter what time,” Salari says. “He’s just incredibly flexible. He’s just available and he never complains where you send him. Wherever we’ve needed him, he just goes and does it. His attitude is he just wants to help the kids and ref.”
Alexander officiates adult and youth recreation leagues as well as high school. Salari estimates that Alexander refs about five to six games per week during the season, about 80 games per year. Pay for officials, Salari says, ranges from $50 to $60 for a high school game and $25 to $35 for a rec game.
“He’ll work anything from the lowest levels to the most challenging games,” Salari says. “I think that’s why he’s so valuable. It’s incredible he hasn’t gotten hurt all these years. It’s very demanding to keep up with the high school kids.”
Alexander grew up in Eugene, playing soccer at North Eugene High School. He moved to Bend in 1984 and worked for the Deschutes National Forest for a few years, planting and thinning trees. He found work in construction with a local builder and eventually became a contractor.
Over the years, soccer players and coaches have come to know what to expect from Alexander on the field.
“I’ve been around long enough that they know what I’ll allow and disallow,” he says.
Alexander knows how to deal with players who complain about his calls.
“I just show them my whistle and say come join us,” he says. “If you don’t like it, then you’re certainly welcome to come out and help.”
Alexander says that, as far as pressure from spectators, basketball is the most challenging sport that he officiates.
“Being in close quarters like basketball is tough,” he says. “You hear a lot more. And there seems to be, at least in numbers, more fans there to criticize, too. In soccer there’s not as big a fan base and it’s spread out so you don’t hear everything that goes on. As far as rules application and knowledge, baseball has the most rules of all the sports.”
Nils Eriksson, entering his 30th season as the Bend High boys soccer coach, has known Alexander for more than 30 years. He says it is “remarkable” that Alexander is willing to officiate so many soccer matches.
“That is really great for us to have somebody like that,” Eriksson says. “It’s not that easy. You’ve got to have a thick skin. Some people take things personal. I don’t think Marko does, and that has kept him in the game a lot longer.”
Asked about some of his most memorable experiences as an official, Alexander recalls a boys soccer match at Bend’s Mountain View High School several years ago.
The Cougars scored a goal to tie the game at the end of regulation, but the horn had sounded before the goal and the center referee did not hear it.
The crew had to disallow the goal, and the home crowd was incredulous.
“The benches came unglued and everybody was just beside themselves,” Alexander says. “We grabbed our bags and left the premises as soon as we could. Luckily they have a back gate we could go out, and the field supervisor was there to let us out.”
Alexander says he was both honored and surprised to be recognized as Oregon soccer official of the year.
“I always have the same approach,” he says. “But I kind of want to step up a little bit and live up to the award.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,