Priester Not Slowing Down As He Receives Charles Ruter Award
Two days after Thanksgiving, I covered the Run for Amy, a 5K held in Celoron to honor the memory of Amy King.
Tom Priester was there, serving as the starter.
Earlier this week, I stopped at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Jamestown.
Tom Priester was there to greet me.
And, should you take in a high school track & field meet next spring or a cross country meet next fall, you’ll likely see him there, too.
At 84, the West Ellicott resident shows no signs of slowing down.
Those in the know have taken notice of Priester’s accomplishments, too.
Since 2014, he has been inducted into the Chautauqua Sports, North East (Pennsylvania) High School and Section VI halls of fame as well as the Slippery Rock University Soccer Ring of Honor.
But the award he received last week has eclipsed them all.
None other than Priester himself.
“This is as high as I can go,” he said.
Before he retired, Priester was a physical education teacher at Southwestern Central School where he served as varsity track coach for eight years and cross country coach for 45. A USA Track & Field official, Priester has worked meets — high school, college, Olympic Trials and international competitions — since 1985.
It’s been quite a journey.
Priester’s latest trip took him to Lake Buena Vista, Florida last Friday where he was the recipient of the Charles Ruter Award, which is presented annually to “an outstanding running event official who has given of themself for years, across the country, at all levels of officiating in the various running event venues.”
To be eligible, a candidate has to be a master-level official in good standing with the association in which they are certified; with the National Officials Committee; and with USATF; a certified USATF running events official for at least 10 years; and an official recognized by peers for their betterment and devotion to officiating in the area of running events.
Priester checks all those boxes.
“To be considered — for one year — that I was the top of the cream is just mind-boggling,” he said. ” … I just got into officiating because I wanted to continue to be around kids in the county. And then there was just opportunity after opportunity, and here I am.”
Priester did admit there was one small problem as he prepared to leave Florida for his flight home, and it was this: how would he transport the oversized trophy?
I didn’t see how I could carry that with my two hands and get my luggage, (too),” he said.
Instead, Priester is having it shipped home.
The cost was $68.
To Priester, it was worth it.
“It’s my ‘Stanley Cup,'” he said.
When it was suggested it could also be called the “Priester Cup,” he just smiled.
“It’s such an honor,” he said. “I don’t know how to react. … You like to feel like you’ve earned it.”
Ruter would have approved.
According to an online search, Ruter — who died at 91 in 2011 — was a track & field official for two Olympic Games; vice president of U.S. Track and Field Association; official for every major U.S. competition at one time or another; and an inductee of multiple halls of fame.
He was, in fact, a man who Priester admired.
“I knew Mr. Ruter. I worked under him as a beginning USA official,” he recalled. “He always said, ‘If you think you saw it, you didn’t. And if you know you saw it, you write up what you saw.’
“I learned from the boss.”
It’s apparent that Priester was a willing student, and now he is the proud owner of that huge trophy that bears his late friend’s name. To honor Ruter’s memory and to celebrate receiving such an honor, Priester said he expects to fill it with his favorite beverage and take a nice, long drink from it.
Given the lives he’s impacted through his officiating career, Priester will likely have plenty of folks who will want to join him to celebrate.