Wanted: more whistle-blowers

The Baltimore Sun

Shannon Troyer and Elizabeth Gordon have officiated field hockey and girls lacrosse games for several years, and each has tried to recruit friends to referee without much success.

The women, who played both sports in high school, said officiating was a natural progression after Troyer, 26, played field hockey at Delaware and Gordon, 28, played club lacrosse at Maryland. They love the job and have encouraged others to try it to help ease a shortage of referees in field hockey and, to a lesser extent, lacrosse.

The growth of field hockey and lacrosse into year-round sports with thriving youth, club and indoor programs has fueled a greater demand for officials.

Seasoned officials said there are several reasons equally to blame for the shortage, including the increasingly hostile environment for officials at games.

"I think there's that fear. When you first start something, it's a little scary," said Troyer, a North Harford graduate. "People judge you and yell at you right away. You can be out there for the first time, and no one knows that. There's just that fear of being in the fishbowl."

But that's only one factor. With more women going straight from college to 9-to-5 jobs, there are fewer stay-at-home moms, who, along with teachers, the self-employed and government workers, make up the bulk of officials. The shrinking ranks of physical education teachers, the discontinuation of referee classes at the college level and the interest of many young women in coaching are also factors.

Troyer and Gordon, both teachers, enjoy the challenge.

"You've got to think fast, and the calls you make are judgment calls on what's fair and what's safe. Sometimes, you're wrong, but you have to make that call in an instant and move on. I find it really mentally stimulating," said Gordon, a Woodlawn graduate.

In hockey, the number of local officials is barely keeping pace with the growth of the sport - especially on the youth level.

"We've always needed refs. It's just now refs are working 12 months a year, and they're also doing multiple games in one day," said Lea Kusner, an official for 30 years who assigns referees to field hockey and lacrosse games at all levels from youth to high school in Baltimore and Harford counties and private schools.

"We're not getting a lot of young people. We need more young people. Where are the 25-year-olds like when I started?"

Locally, only Anne Arundel is at 100 percent capacity for field hockey season - with no room to spare. Steve Morgan, who assigns officials for the Anne Arundel Board of Officials, has 16 referees, just enough to cover a typical afternoon of league play.

Kusner said the Baltimore Board of Officials for Women's Sports has 60 field hockey refs, about 85 percent of the need. Oralee Smith, of the Howard/Carroll Officials Organization, Inc., said she is at about 75 percent with 25 officials.

Morgan, Kusner and Smith often borrow from each other to cover their games.

The only organization to assign officials on all those levels, BBOWS covers about 7,000 games per year in both sports, said Kusner, but the officiating pool is largely the same for all of it.

This fall, the number of girls (and a handful of boys) participating in public school field hockey in Maryland is up to 4,051 from 3,421 in 1995, although it has remained fairly steady for the past seven years, according to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. There are no statistics available for participation in the private school league, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, which has 24 field hockey schools, some with middle school programs, and will add a 25th next fall.

Across the country, the sport has grown from 54,392 to 64,286 participants since 1995, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Those statistics, however, don't tell the whole story. Thriving youth programs indicate growth is accelerating here.

Last fall, Anne Arundel County had 2,000 girls participate in its fall league. In the Fallston Recreation Council, field hockey has grown from about 60 girls seven years ago to 170 this fall with one of the biggest booms in the kindergarten to second grade level.

With that kind of growth and the aging population of referees, newcomers may be desperately needed soon.

Many veterans, such as Joan Salmon, have made officiating a career. Salmon has worked on every level from youth to international over more than 50 years. The money is good - $61 to $70 for a high school varsity game - the hours are flexible and she likes the working conditions.

"I appreciate the opportunity to let the girls have fun and you can't beat being outside on a field this time of year. When the leaves start to turn and the sky is blue overhead, you don't have to be in a stuffy gym," said Salmon, the interpreter of rules for the state public school tournament.

Perhaps the best hope for building the referee ranks is connections, which is how Troyer and Gordon were pulled in. They each knew someone who encouraged them to try it - Troyer's mother, Pat Troyer, and Gordon's friend's mother, Kathy Payne.

"If my friend's mother hadn't already been reffing and mentioned it to me, I probably wouldn't be into it," said Gordon.

Though Troyer and Gordon can handle the verbal abuse they sometimes hear at games, Morgan said it takes a toll on some newcomers.

"I had a new lady come out and in the last game of the season, I asked her, 'What do you think?' She said, 'You won't get me out on that field ever again. If somebody's going to cuss at me and demean me, I'll stay home and watch cartoons with my kids.' I think that's a big reason why we can't get ahead in this officiating business."


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