Mad for March

combo photo of Kipp Kissenger now and as NWU student basketball playerKipp Kissinger (’98) knows a thing or two about March Madness. As a junior in 1997, Kissinger and the Plainsmen rode that madness all the way to the NCAA Division III national championship game.

They tipped off against Illinois Wesleyan in Salem, Va., and were promptly punched in the collective mouth. Kissinger blamed the team’s attitude early. “We were happy to be there,” he remembered, “and we got away from the tenacity” that had carried the team to that point. The Plainsmen fell behind by 23 in the first half.

Game over, right?

Kissinger didn’t think so. Neither did his teammate, Mitch Mosser (‘98). Held scoreless in the first half, Mosser came alive in the second, pouring in seven of nine three-pointers. Kissinger scored 14 as NWU whittled its way back to within a single point, 69-70 with six and a half minutes left.

But even a 56-point second half wasn’t quite enough. When the buzzer sounded, NWU fell 89-86. After 31 games, the Plainsmen came up two buckets short of a national championship.

Maddening.

His senior year, Kissinger would lead a team with just two losses back to the tournament, but it would soon lose its third. Kissinger—a three-time Academic All-American and school record-holder for three-pointers (294)—would see his basketball career end.

He’d never be a part of March Madness again.

Until 2009.

Kissinger has switched gears from player to referee. He ascended the officiating ranks, beginning at the high school and small college level. He spent the last three seasons officiating for the Big XII and Missouri Valley conferences. This season he worked 55 NCAA Division I games, including 11 Big XII Conference games. He also worked the Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State game in the Big XII Tournament.

Then came March Madness.

On March 19, Kissinger officiated the opening round game between Maryland and California in Kansas City. When asked about his repeat appearance as player and official, he said, “I haven’t thought about it like that. I never drew that line, but it is unique.”

He was on the floor for the entire game. Most fans in the Sprint Center hardly noticed he was there. For an official, running the floor unnoticed on one of the biggest stages in collegiate sports is a sign of a job well done.

“Referees ‘shine’ when they go unnoticed and provide an environment where players can showcase their talents within the spirit of the game,” Kissinger said. He believes in protecting that environment for students on both teams.

He knows the magnitude of that March experience; he’s been there.