Life on the other side of the whistle


Having played lacrosse for years, Amy Harrison understands the intricacies of the game. But it was only recently that the 16-year-old developed an appreciation for a different element of the sport -- the referees.

Harrison is one of many teenagers who have been trained to officiate games in the Girls' Lacrosse Association of Anne Arundel County.

Facing a growing need for referees, association officials turned to the teenagers, offering to train and give them chances to run the games, as well as earn money.

Frequently in recent years, the association was short on officials. Timeliness of payments also had become a problem, with some referees not receiving their money until the end of the season.

Don Harrison, president of the association, and others started trying to make some changes. By 2004, they revised the system so that officials now are paid in cash on the field at games they work. The year before, they had begun pushing to get high school students to work as referees.

"We'd always had [some] high school kids but wanted to have more high school kids to just have a bigger pool to draw from," said Harrison, father of Amy. "We teach them ... and it's a great life experience."

Don Anthony and Sherry Kirk run an Arnold-based company, Matrix Sports, that provides the training. Kirk said that prospective referees must go through 14 hours of training, including classroom work and field situations, before they're ready to begin.

"It makes them a better player, and it teaches them conflict resolution at a very young age," Kirk said. "It also has a lot of character building."

Participants must be age 15 or older to join the program and can officiate in any of the three age groups: pee-wee (third and fourth grade), middle (fifth and sixth) and junior (seventh through ninth). They get paid $24 to $45 per game, depending upon the age group.

Kirk said the number of officials for association games went from about 45 officials four years ago to 120 this year. Instead of having a shortage of officials, the association now gets complaints of too little officiating work to go around.

"It's a nice problem to have," Kirk said.

Amy Harrison just completed her sophomore year at St. Mary's High School. She also just finished her second season as a referee for girls lacrosse and enjoys the job.

"I like refereeing, especially the little pee-wee girls," she said. "They definitely look up to you, and you get to teach them something. I always try to explain to them why I made the call and teach them."

Harrison said gaining confidence as a referee can be a challenge at first, especially because there often is complaining about calls. But her approach has been to make a call and move on.

Often, that's easier said than done.

"Sometimes it's really difficult if you have a difficult parent on the sidelines or a difficult coach or a difficult player," she said. "But you just have to be really polite and explain to them that you're trying to do your job and you're trying to do the best job you possibly can. If you're polite to someone who's being rude, then they'll realize what they're doing and stop."

Don Harrison said the teenagers sometimes work two or three games in a row, usually on weekends but occasionally on weeknights, earning money and learning about responsibility.

The officials must show up early and prepare the field for play, just as someone has to find their way to a job to prepare for the day.

"They really learn responsibility," Don Harrison said. "It's a good way to see the game from another perspective, and I think it helps them understand the game better."

Amy Harrison says she understands her job as an official now. It took her some time to get used to it, but she enjoys it. She still plays the game, mostly with a team in the association's league for high-schoolers, and she has a newfound respect for officials.

"I know where they're coming from, and I try to be more tolerant," she said.

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