WALKER — Cass County’s new probation director Jim Schneider also is a state high school league certified sports official who officiated at one of the girls state basketball tournament games last week.
It’s his third year chosen to officiate at the state tournament. He also is a certified football official who officiated the 2007 semifinals game, the 2008 prep bowl final championship game and the 2009 nine-man football prep bowl final.
He sees a natural correlation between his day job and what he calls his hobby: officiating.
“It’s kind of Lady Justice,” Schneider said, noting the balance required for being an effective probation officer and for officiating games.
In probation, it is about public safety accountability and rehabilitation, he said. In officiating, it is about enforcing rules so kids can have equal opportunity to win.
It’s also natural for Schneider to be continuing his involvement in sports, because sports led him into his profession.
Schneider grew up in Bird Island where he played on the 1983 Bird Island-Lake Lillian high school basketball team that was in the state basketball tournament.
He said his dad’s involvement in many things probably has influenced his community involvement today. His dad has been a part-time farmer many years. Schneider still helps with the fall harvest.
His dad worked for 3M and the city of Bird Island and now is on the city council.
His mom, a nurse, taught him listening skills, so you can understand someone’s story, he said.
As a high school senior, his career testing suggested he should become a law enforcement officer. He wasn’t so sure about that, but he entered college, going to school half the year and working for a neighboring Bird Island farmer half the year.
After completing four quarters of college, Schneider and a friend had an opportunity to work one winter for a Crested Butte, Colo., ski resort, which in turn offered to pay for his next quarter of college. So, he took the opportunity, helping people on and off a ski lift and learning to ski himself.
When he returned to college the next summer at St. Cloud State University he also got involved with a community softball league. Also in that league were some probation officers.
“I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do’,” Schneider said, adding that he then stayed in school until he completed his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but with a focus toward probation in 1990. He worked in Stearns County probation two years before becoming a Cass County probation officer in 1992.
“I owe a lot to my mentor,” he said of Reno Wells, whom he succeeds as probation director. Wells recently became Cass Health, Human and Veterans Services director.
“It’s a great line of work,” Schneider said of being a probation officer. “I get up every morning looking forward to going to work.”
County probation oversees juvenile offenders, plus adults who commit misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenses. The state monitors felony offenders.
Schneider said he has seen many people turn their lives around through probation monitoring. When people reward themselves by becoming better people, they’re having a happier life, he said.
“Don’t change for the system,” he advises probationers. “Change for yourself.”
He has seen juveniles turn their life around when they enter sports programs and stick with it. Sports require discipline, give kids a positive group to be a part of, can restore self-esteem and minimize risk factors.
Schneider sees chemical dependency as the biggest challenge most law offenders face. Overcoming that dependency may take four or five times through treatment programs, he said.
It’s rewarding to see someone stay in recovery, he added.