BY ETHAN LILLARD
FORT MADISON – When Fort Madison High School graduate Luke Booten wrapped up his senior season of soccer a the state finals, he didn’t know if he would ever be involved with soccer again. That fear was nothing compared to the fear his parents felt when Luke had to have a shunt put in when he was just six days old. On top of that, he was also born with Hydrocephalus, causing a disability for Luke that affects the left side of his body.
While watching Luke officiate, he walks the sidelines with a noticeable limp. Other than that, no one would ever know the hardships Luke and the Booten family have been through during his life.
“We encouraged Luke to use his left hand as much as possible but it still has limited use,” Nancy Booten, Luke’s mother said. “Even with that he finds out how to get things done. He has always worked hard at everything he does.”
“But that has never stopped him from playing the game or reffing the game. When he was young and started playing, it was hard for him to throw the ball in correctly and keep his foot on the ground. However, he worked hard at overcoming that.”
That motivation to continue to work through any struggles he faced is what led Booten to his career in officiating soccer games. With a deep passion for the game having started playing soccer around the second grade, staying involved with the sport as an official was and continues to be a dream come true for Booten. He never would have guessed that after a decade of officiating, his efforts and love for the game would be recognized in the form of the Iowa Games Official of the Year Award.
“It felt good,” Booten said of winning the award. “I was surprised, but it felt good. It was an honor to be selected as the official of the year.”
It may have come as a surprise to Booten that he was nominated, but for those around the tri-state high school soccer scene, it shouldn’t have been.
Booten is a regular staple during the season and can be found on the sideline wherever he’s needed, regardless of the location and distance of the match.
“This would have been his eleventh year,” Nancy Booten said. “He always goes. He travels about three hours to get there. This has been all free and volunteer. They recognize that.
“They always offer to give you mileage and they offer a college dorm, but we don’t take those things because I go up and take (Luke) because he enjoys doing it.”
Booten’s extensive background with soccer made him the perfect candidate when a family friend inquired about Luke’s interest in officiating.
“I was real excited when Ted Schneider asked me if I wanted to referee,” Booten said. “I remember him asking me in grade school, I think I was in fifth grade. I said, ‘Yeah, I would like to know what it’s like to be an official.’”
Booten continued to build on his knowledge of the game in high school, being a part of the varsity teams that went to state both his junior and senior seasons, including a fourth-place finish his junior year.
“Good memories for me,” Booten said in reference to the Bloodhounds’ state runs. “I look back at my plaque and all those guys.
“Every summer we have an alumni game where all the guys that played in the program play the current team. Friends, guys that played years before us, and everyone plays it out and we have a good time. We try to keep track of how many times we win, or how many times they beat us.”
Schneider didn’t forget about Luke’s interest in continuing to be around the game of soccer and upon graduation of high school, asked Luke again, to which he happily agreed.
“I had to go through USFF training and he was my trainer,” Booten said of Schneider and his help getting started. “I went through training and test and all of that. Then I started at the YMCA and he was there with me the whole time. Then he said I was ready for the next level.”
The next step was working on getting into the varsity ranks at the high school level. Booten first had to start with some junior varsity contests, but once he had the hang of it, was moved up to varsity.
With Booten now a regular on the sidelines, he has been able to cultivate relationships with his fellow officials and says the teamwork involved with officiating is something he enjoys being a part of. Not to mention he still gets to watch soccer.
“Working with the different guys I know around here in Burlington and Fairfield,” Booten said is one of his favorite parts of the gig. “And going to different schools, doing to competitive matches.”
When asked why he continues to do it and if he had any intentions of stopping officiating, Booten continued to reference his love of the game, something that will never leave him.
“Just from my days of playing and being with my friends that I played with,” Booten said is why he loves it. “Even when I was in grade school I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do most of my life.’”