Rochester Innovators Series: Kristopher Loving
Kristopher Loving, Sr. is the founder of Official Love, a nonprofit organization that helps educate and mentor teens and young adults who want to get involved in sports refereeing. Since launching the program in May 2016, Kris has successfully helped four individuals go through the necessary steps and training to find officiating positions in three different sports: basketball, football and girl’s lacrosse. Now, nearly one year later, he’s ready for primetime.
“When I first started helping people, it was a personal endeavor,” says Kris. “Now the organization is growing where we’re getting board members and we’re getting a structure.”
While athletics and officiating are both passions for Kris, he sees Official Love as having a greater impact than just what happens in the gym or on the field. That’s because for Kris, becoming an official has provided the playbook for him to become a better man and a more active member of his community. As Kris says, “We see officiating as a way to build character and form positive habits."
We recently spoke with Kris to learn about how his journey led him to start Official Love. Minor edits were made for flow and clarity.
Tell us a little about yourself.
About three years ago, I moved [from Chicago] to Rochester with my wife. Her father started a church here, Walk in the Light church, so we came to help out with the ministry and be closer to her family as we were starting our marriage and having children. It was a big help to have that support system here in Rochester. Since I have been here, I have been trying to integrate myself into the community — to use my skills and my passions to give back to my new community.
WHat have your experiences here been like?
I see a lot of different people I would have never met before, so it’s been nice to see new cultures. And it’s not negative, but the small town kind of feel, where everyone is part of the same neighborhood, same community. It’s not so overwhelmingly big — it’s kind of that family feel everywhere you go.
Where did your interest in officiating come from?
I have been involved with sports as a player and a coach. I also got involved with personal training, as well as a lot of youth leadership. So I have worked with sports and young people for most of my adult life. It’s a great passion of mine.
What was the inspiration behind Official Love?
Two things sparked Official Love. One, when I first wanted to get started with officiating I was excited and felt good about it, but I didn’t realize how much it cost. There were a lot of things that come with it that I didn’t know. There were some barriers. But I had a great friend and mentor, Darrin Sortor, who was an official also, who provided me with my first pair of shoes, my first referee shirts, whistle, and a lot of those basic things I needed to get started. That was big spark — his support and his mentorship. So what we do is mentor and help with resources for new officials.
And the second spark forward was that my time as an official has, in my opinion, helped me grow as a man, as a husband and as a father. I have picked up a lot of great skills and good habits. So that’s the second pillar: emphasizing what you can get out of officiating beyond making extra money and staying in shape. Everybody kind of knows that. But it’s some of those behind the scenes things that people don’t see: the networking, the teamwork, the camaraderie. We want to emphasize that, as well as support, resources and training.
Who benefits from Official Love?
Our target is upperclassmen high school students through late 20s. The idea to help those younger ones as they are developing their plans for life and education. I’m hoping the skills they learn as an official can transfer to whatever they decide to do. And for the young adults, they may have an idea of where they want to go and this can help them with some of that professional development, that networking. Because maybe they’re in a gap; maybe they just graduated and and they’re waiting on their first job and this can be something to help them out.
IN your experiences so far, what kind of support has proved most critical for aspiring officials?
In addition to cost, there’s a lot of registrations you have to do, online applications and deadlines you have to meet. And I was there to stay on top of them and encourage them not to quit. Because that’s a big factor: people quitting and not even getting started. There’s a lot of work, but if you have someone helping you, it helps them stay with it.
Where do you see Official LOve in 5 years?
I would love to be represented in all the sports that are offered in Minnesota as a high school-sanctioned sport. We want to work closely with the Minnesota State High School League, and help with recruitment and retainment, so that we can help be role models and leaders in youth sports.
What could your organization use right now?
We need volunteers that have officiating experience, mentoring experience, business experience, health and wellness experience. Because again, we want to impact the whole person.
Official Love will hold an open house Thursday, March 30 from 7-8 p.m. at the Rochester Public Library. Everyone is welcome.
Rochester Innovators is a nine-part series being published in partnership with Destination Medical Center.
Cover photo by William Forsman