Love of the Game: Steinway honored as Official of the Year by IHSA after 43 years on football field

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Umpire Fred Steinway sets the ball during the Class 3A state championship football game between Byron and Mount Carmel in November 2023 in Champaign. Steinway learned earlier this week that he was named the Illinois High School Association’s Official of the Year for football for the 2023-24 season. | Photo courtesy of Illinois High School Association

QUINCY — After 43 years of officiating football and 31 years of umpiring baseball, Fred Steinway hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for sports.

“I’m basically out here for the kids and the love of the game,” he said. “I still feel as if I can do a good job, and all the friendships I’ve developed are priceless. I enjoy my hobby, and my hobby pays a little bit, but you can’t put a price on everything. I still love it.”

Steinway learned earlier this week that he was named the Illinois High School Association’s Official of the Year for football for the 2023-24 season. He was one of 21 officials recognized.

To be considered for the honor, an official must be nominated by an Officials Association recognized by the IHSA or by an IHSA administrator. IHSA staff members then vote on the winners based on factors such as character, skill as an official and levels worked in the IHSA State Series.

Steinway and the other 20 winners will be recognized during the IHSA Officials Conference on July 12-13 in Normal.

In his self-deprecating manner, Steinway said the honor must be for lifetime achievement.

“There’s a gazillion great officials around here,” he said. “We’re surrounded by such good officials in this area in all sports. I mean, just pick one. We’ve got state-final guys in basketball, baseball, football and softball. Shoot, we just had a Quincy guy (Ric Hinkamper) officiate in the Sugar Bowl. We are really blessed with so many damn good officials.”

Steinway also was quick to compliment his football crew — Roy Hinkamper, Jeff Meyer, Doug Elledge and Joe Kuhlman — and other past officiating partners. He says he still works two or three nights a week, even finding time to officiate junior varsity games.

Steinway, 64, has worked at the state finals three times each in baseball and football. He was at the state baseball tournament in 2016, 2018 and 2023. He was at the state football finals in 2014, 2018 and 2023. His crew officiated the Class 3A Mount Carmel-Byron championship game in November.

Always quick to tell a story about his officiating adventures, Steinway won’t forget how he was coaxed into becoming a football official in 1980, two years after he graduated from Quincy High School. He was working as an umpire for the Quincy Park District’s summer slow-pitch softball leagues when his partner, Larry Jett, told him that the umpire on his football crew was leaving the area.

“We had a forfeit in one of our games, and Larry starts recruiting me,” Steinway said. “He said, ‘You’d be a good umpire.’ I told him I played the game four years in high school as a lineman. I kind of knew what he was talking about and what he was looking for. I really didn’t have anything full-time cooking. I figured it was a way I could make a little extra money.

“I joined the crew, and the rest is history.”

Steinway isn’t ready to stop working, either. 

“I tell everybody that if you remember (former Los Angeles Dodgers manager) Tommy Lasorda, I’m signing one-year contracts now,” he said with his infectious laugh. “I go year to year right now, but if my health stays good like it is and I feel good and everything at age 70, I’ll have 50 years in. If I could be a 50-year guy and 70 years old, I’d hang it up and take it from there. That would probably be a perfect world.” 

“Participation in high school sports provides countless benefits. However, those opportunities would not exist without the hard-working men and women who choose the officiating avocation,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a press release. “It is an honor to be able to celebrate these 21 outstanding individuals who are so respected among their officiating peers, while also recognizing that IHSA sports continue due to the collaborative efforts of every IHSA official. We thank them all.”

From left, Jeff Meyer, Fred Steinway, Roy Hinkamper, Joe Kuhlman and Doug Elledge before the Class 3A state championship football game in November. | Photo courtesy of Illinois High School Association

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