Howard County field hockey players seeing game through official's eyes

Molly Milani looks at a field hockey game differently than she did last fall. The Glenelg defender no longer just watches the game as a player, she also views it as an official.

Milani is one of a dozen high school girls who took the class, Field Hockey 101: Learning to Officiate.

Karen Dye, a member of the Howard/Carroll Officials Association, came up with the idea for the class.

"I thought, let me put it out there and see if anybody is interested," said Dye, a longtime field hockey and lacrosse official.

The three-day long class was offered though the Howard County Recreation and Parks Department. There were two sessions — one in the summer and the other just as the fall field hockey season was about to start.

For $25, each girl received a rule book, whistle, lanyard, set of cards and a ring to check sticks, along with instruction on how to officiate.

"I had a friend who was taking the class and I thought I could learn more about field hockey and also get more involved," said River Hill's Ali Hovet.

The first two nights of class covered rules. The third night was more about when to whistle a foul and when to card a player.

Blowing a whistle took practice.

"It's a technique you have to learn," Dye said.

The sound has to be loud enough to be heard and sharp enough to indicate authority and confidence.

Dye said she enjoyed teaching the class and may offer another class later this fall.

"Adults you treat a little bit differently, but the (student-officials) soak it up so much faster, especially since right now they are involved in their seasons," she said.

In a way, Dye is trying to train her future replacement.

"The interest is out there, if we can start them young. If we can get one percent who continue to officiate that would help."

Field hockey has long been thought of as a sport with strange rules and too many whistles, but the game has been in transition. As the rules and equipment have changed, participation in field hockey has grown exponentially.

Locally, there are two youth club programs, travel teams, summer leagues, better fields (Bermuda grass and SportTurf) and indoor leagues.

With the growth of the sport, there is a greater need for officials.

Those who have taken Field Hockey 101 have been officiating Sunday afternoons in the rec department's middle school fall league.

"I just wanted to give back to the younger girls," said Reservoir's Emily Blanchard. "I think it's an opportunity to use my field hockey skills and put them to good use. It's like a job, too. I'm getting something out of it and the girls are getting something out of it, too. …The class really opened my eyes to the game. I know more than I knew before."

One thing the student-officials learned was that it's not always easy to decide what is a foul.

"When I play, I think I see all these fouls, but when I ref, I realize that they aren't necessarily fouls," Milani said.

Her officiating experience has made her a better player, Milani said. "I've been able to execute things better because I know what's legal and what's not."

One thing that Blanchard said she learned is that as much as observers may yell it from the sideline, there is no rule specifically called "high stick."

The student-officials also learned that there are different rules for different levels of play — high school, college and international.

"I can understand how hard it is to officiate, because there are so many fouls and you want to call the right one and you want play to continue," Hovet said.

The young officials are also realizing that there is a difference in knowing the rule on paper and being able to apply it at game speed.

Dye sent the student-officials the same 100-question test that the adult high school officials take.

"I'd really like to see more referees who are returning field hockey players," Blanchard said. "It's nice to see more people who have played coming back to officiate when they are older."

In a few years, that just might describe Milani, Hovet, Blanchard and their Field Hockey 101 classmates.

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