Kevin Klinger grew up in York dribbling and kicking a soccer ball.
Like a lot of youngsters, Klinger loved to play the game, but, unlike many other youngsters, when he wasn't competing in a soccer match, Klinger was officiating one.
When he just 14, Klinger put on a striped shirt and hung a whistle around his neck for the first time and began chasing 6- and 7-year olds around fields in York County.
"At first, it was just a way to make some extra cash on the weekend," the Central York High School and York College graduate said. "There aren't many jobs that a 14-year-old can apply for. I continued doing it, and by the time I turned 18, I knew I really enjoyed it. Gerry Heist, who was one of my mentors, and some other guys said, 'you've got a lot of skill, you could do very well in this.'"
Klinger took the advice and decided to pursue his dream.
"I played soccer at Central and York College, but I ended up being a much better referee than a player," he said. "I knew early on that I wanted to go as high as I could as an official (level wise), but I didn't know where that ceiling was."
Klinger hasn't bumped his head yet, and he's on the threshold of working at the highest level in this country: Major League Soccer.
He worked MLS pre-season matches recently in Florida and is hoping to make his regular-season debut next month.
"It (getting assigned to a MLS match), will be a dream come true," Klinger said. "I really don't have any preference as to where I'm assigned for my first match. I'll take a debut any time, any place."
Klinger climbed the officiating ladder to the top.
Youth, amateur, high school, college, semi-professional matches, he worked all of them. Some of the matches he officiated with his father and mentor, Todd Klinger.
"When I first started doing college games, we worked a lot together, and that was a lot of fun," he said. "When I started out (at 14), he was instrumental in my development discussing all the different aspects of the game, plus he had to drive me to the games. My mom came to watch some of the college games and she had to listen to fans jeer us or say, 'hey ref.'"
Klinger knows that officiating a regular-season MLS match will be unlike anything he's ever done.
"Maybe it's the same speed of the game and same physicality as (NCAA) Division I soccer, but the atmosphere and the pressure of a MLS game will be so different," he said. "There's the knowledge that you're being seen by tens of thousands of people and millions on TV, plus livelihoods are at stake."
Klinger's role is assistant referee (a MLS match features a referee, two assistant referees and a fourth official).
"An assistant referee's primary responsibility is the offside call," he said. "It's a critical decision deciding whether it's a goal or no goal (because a player was ruled offside)."
Klinger expects the April match assignments to come out within the next two weeks.
"There's a lot of anticipation, that's for sure," he said. "I'll be waiting for a phone call or an e-mail."
If Klinger does get the call, the guys he used to work with in York County will also be thrilled their former partner made it to the highest level.
"It's been a real treat to see him grow," Heist said.
-- Reach Dick VanOlin da at dvanolinda@yorkdis patch.com or 505-5407.