More women make the call to become officials; In college basketball, ex-players get chance


It is late on a Saturday afternoon in a gym in Catonsville, and Julie Ward is being tested and judged.

After she manages to suit up in the cramped locker room with the dim light, Ward will endure a barrage of cajoling and nagging and heckling by fans and coaches of UMBC and Quinnipiac.

For this referee, the reward is the final buzzer, a dinner in Little Italy, and the knowledge that she has made a contribution to the game she loves most.

"For former players, for those who won't go on to a pro career, the opportunities are enormous, especially for the women," said Ward, who travels to officiate women's basketball games on the weekends when she's not working as a nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital and Union Memorial Hospital.

"But I think it is a tough sell, and not everyone who loves the game is cut out to be an official."

For one thing, the sparse crowd is joined by a Northeast Conference supervisor who is there to critique her calls. For another, she remains anonymous in her role as a referee and conspicuous just the same because of those vertical black-and-white stripes.

"It takes a certain mentality to walk into a 5- or 10,000-seat arena and know that most of the people aren't going to like you," Ward says. "It's not that they don't like me. They don't like my shirt."

Ward, 37, learned this early while growing up in Towson as the daughter of Buck Ward, a man who has been refereeing for the past 45 years. The younger Ward has been refereeing games for 15 years.

Today, on the 13th annual celebration of national Girls and Women in Sports Day, Ward is but one of a growing number of female referees in college basketball. The job is described as a well-paying, lifetime activity for women who are finished playing, but want to stay involved in sports.

Marcy Weston, who selects referees for the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament, said that women made up 37 percent of the 98 officials she picked last year, a leap from the early and mid-1990s, when the percentages were in the low 20s.

Each conference gives Weston a breakdown of their referees by gender, and she said that around 32 percent of those officiating women's Division I games are female. Highest on the list is the Pacific-10 Conference, with women making up 57 percent of its roster, and the America East and Northeast conferences are close behind at 51 and 49 percent, respectively.

Patience is a virtue for women trying to move up. Helene Hamilton was a hospital technician and stockbroker before she attended her first officiating camp in 1988. From there it was seven years in high schools and smaller colleges until she made the roster of the NEC in 1995.

Hamilton said that she gets paid $275 plus expenses for each game that she officiates, supplementing the income she makes as a high school gym teacher in the New York borough of Queens.

Bernadette McGlade, who supervises officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference, said the league pays its officials anywhere from $375 per game to $525 per game.

The independent contractor status of referees can be attractive to people who already have a primary career.

"I talk to some of our former student-athletes all the time about it," said McGlade, who was senior associate athletic director at Georgia Tech before moving to the ACC office this year. "For a female who has family obligations, the flexibility is excellent and it's a job you can get a lot of satisfaction from."

Over 28 years, Phyllis Deveney has witnessed the changes. As a student at St. John's in the 1960s, she saw nothing more than a club for women's basketball. And when she started refereeing in the early 1970s, she saw few like her.

Now, with the WNBA's emergence as a marketing tool and women's college basketball selling well in certain areas of the country, officiating basketball games seems like another way to be in the spotlight. With women refereeing in the NBA, men's Division I basketball remains the only area of the game in the United States where female officials aren't working this season.

"We're getting a lot more women involved with the fact that it's OK to be referees now," Deveney said. "When college athletes see that there are [female] referees, they'll call and say, 'What do I have to do?' "

Hamilton, who started by going to the camps that conferences hold to evaluate officials who may have potential, said she's still surprised to see more men than women when she goes to them.

"Most of the conferences are looking for women; they really want women in the game," Hamilton said. "I don't know where we are, but we should be out there."

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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