Rock Chalk Referee, Hoppenrath Serves at US Olympic Trials
OMAHA – Amy Hoppenrath has had practice suppressing her outward support for her alma mater. As a Kansas graduate and mother of a Nebraska swimmer, she’s admittedly bitten her tongue a time or two during the Rock Chalk Chant.
“I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this,” started Hoppenrath, whose daughter Blaine chose the Cornhuskers after also being pursued by KU. “I remember being at the Big 12 Conference meet and the KU parents were next to us singing and I’d want to, ‘Rock Chalk Jayhawk’ and sing the song, but I couldn’t.”
There was no singing as the US Olympic Trials opened Sunday, but Hoppenrath was serving as the underwater video official for the first several lanes of the 400-meter individual medley when she heard the CenturyLink Center announcer call out Libby Walker’s name and her Kansas affiliation. The practice came in handy, although there was no real temptation for the always professional Hoppenrath.
“It’s really fun to see them compete,” she said of KU’s contingent at the Trials, along with other swimmers she’s seen grow up. “I really don’t look at names when things happen, I don’t really know who’s even in the pool – I really try not to.”
“Yesterday, when the announcer said Libby was there, it was really fun to watch her. Being from Region Eight and having so many summer meets at Mizzou for years, we got to watch Libby grow up. Frankly, I have to say it was great to see a kid from Columbia go to KU. She’s always been a great swimmer and it was really fun to watch the underwater camera and be able to pay attention to an athlete that I knew.”
Hoppenrath has watched dozens of races over the first two days of the US Olympic Trials, diligently monitoring the swims of a field that includes 1,790 competitors while spending upwards of 12 hours a day at the pool – all as a volunteer. Only the best in the country received an invitation to work this week’s meet in Omaha and Hoppenrath spent Monday’s preliminary and finals sessions as one of six deck officials, assisting a crew of referees who watch the start, keep athletes safe in the water, vet disqualifications and manage the timing and operations of events.
“It’s such a huge honor to be here,” Hoppenrath, an advertising major at KU who now works in marketing for an accounting firm in Kansas City. “I know there are 500 officials in this country that could be sitting in my shoes. To be here, I’m really, really blessed and I’m grateful. It’s huge to have this chance.”
Like many meet officials, Hoppenrath’s career started as a way to help support her children’s activities. Before Blaine was a versatile contributor at Nebraska, she worked her way up the club ranks, including swimming competitively for the Kansas City Blazers with a number of current and former Olympic Trials participants.
“We just kind of kept following her and I enjoyed spending time on deck – it was a lot of fun to be there,” Amy said. “In a sense it made me a better parent at swim meets because I let my athlete focus on what she needed to focus on. I had something to focus on and we could be at the venue, going through the meet together. It was a great way to do it.”
After Blaine retired nearly five years ago, Amy’s involvement only got deeper.
“I got crazy engaged,” Hoppenrath laughed.
In addition to being one of just 10 FINA certified officials in the United States, Hoppenrath is on the board of directors for USA Swimming and is the administrative vice-chairperson for Missouri Valley Swimming. In 2014 she travelled across the globe to officiate the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia. Her USA Swimming duties included planning for the Trials in Omaha, which has been sold out and is expected to draw a record crowd of 200,000 fans or more.
“Omaha really embraces this event and the activity,” Hoppenrath said. “From a board perspective, you see how hard they work to make this event, to have this place sold out is just phenomenal. Who would have thought that Omaha would have sold out Olympic Trials? It’s great for people to see the Midwestern hospitality and how great people are.
“My favorite part, though, is watching the kids grow up. I work a couple of meets at KU every year and have worked in Region Eight for years. Really fun to get to see the kids who are here.”
That includes swimmers like Walker, KU’s sophomore-to-be who will also swim in the 200-meter butterfly, and a handful of Blaine’s close friends from the Kansas City area who have become more like family over the years. Bobby Bollier, a former Stanford student-athlete, is slated to swim four events over the course of the trials; Shannon Vreeland won Olympic Gold in 2012 and has three swims in Omaha; and Ty Fowler, currently swimming at University of Arizona, has two swims, among others.
“We remember when Ty was just a little pipsqueak sitting on blocks with the big kids,” Hoppenrath said. “That part is just really, really cool. There are so many more of them that I didn’t know quite as well, but you see the coaches and athletes here and there’s a familiarity.”
That’s the reward of sorts, the draw for Hoppenrath and other officials to volunteer their time and pay their own way to meets all over the country.
“Many of us are doing it because we want to give back,” Hoppenrath said. “Swimming raises great kids and its our chance to help the next generation grow.”
US Olympic Trials continues Tuesday in Omaha with Kansas All-American Chelsie Miller competing in her second event, the 200-meter individual medley. KU signee Jenny Nusbaum will make her Trials debut with the 200 free. Both swims are slated for the 10 a.m. prelims session that can be seen live online at NBCSports.com/live.
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