Walking onto the soccer field as the figure of authority instilled a sense of pressure and responsibility for sophomore Kyle Roy, a student at San Dieguito Academy. Three years ago he became a referee knowing it would encompass critical coaches, loud parents, and decision making that could potentially make or break a game.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure when you get into being a referee because you don’t want to mess up and you want to have a fair game,” Roy said. “[As a referee] you have to stick to your guns when you make a call… Don’t listen to the parents too much and just focus on making the correct call.”
Roy, along with other students at SDA, spends his work days on the playing fields to regulate sports games and keep them as fair as possible. Referees carry a great deal of responsibility as they are tasked with making correct calls, keeping the game safe, and dealing with angry parents and coaches. It is a job which challenges patience, courage, and confidence.
For junior Jenna Weinhofer, who is a third-year soccer referee, it is the game-changing calls that can be especially difficult to make. Near the end of a semi-final game for U12 soccer, a handball inside the penalty box led Weinhofer to have to make a call she knew would spur commotion.
“Of course I can’t let [the hand ball] go unnoticed so I had to call it and everyone was yelling at me and booing me,” she said. “But if I wouldn’t have called that it would have been the opposite. You always have someone disagreeing with your play.”
Roy concurred, noting that parents could be especially disagreeable.
“Sometimes [the parents] don’t really know the rules and they just kind of go off on you and think that they’re right all the time,” he said.
For sophomore Morgan Busick who is an umpire for softball, it is not only about the pressure of making the right call but dealing with parents whose behavior can often be disruptive and unnecessary.
“One time I had this really bad experience where there were parents behind me drinking from red cups and everything,” Busick said. “They would go to their cars while their kids were playing, get more beer and drink, and then they’d be yelling at me for making calls… ‘You’re such a terrible ump’ ‘that was a bad call’. It was probably the hardest experience I have ever had. I felt so uncomfortable.”
Alongside the parents, coaches invest a lot into the game and can often release their frustration on the referee.
“There was this one play where the player hit [the softball] and they ran,” Busick said. “She got to the base and then the person tagged her. But I said that the player was safe and the coach freaked on me. After the game she came up to me and was like ‘Hey, that call wasn’t right. That girl was out.’ I told her I made the right call and she was just a freak for U8.”
Similar to Busick, Weinhofer experienced a situation where her authority was tested by an aggravated coach.
“One time I was reffing a boy’s U12 game for recreational,” Weinhofer said. “This coach was losing by a small amount and he did not agree with some of the calls I had to say. He was like ‘Referee I’m just yelling at you because I’m trying to teach you something, you don’t know anything.’ And so I had to stop the game, call him, and then eject him from the game…The kids were not having fun either, they were like crying because he was yelling so much.”
When it comes to dealing with coaches who over-react, Weinhofer considers the task to be intimidating, but in order to reassert her authority, she knows she must be able to approach the coaches with confidence.
“The first time [I had to confront a coach] I was extremely nervous but I knew if my nerves were showing they wouldn’t take me seriously because a huge part of being the referee is not only knowing the game but knowing how to approach people,” she said.
Both Busick and soccer referee Shayna Glazer, junior, agreed that it is not only the parents and coaches who can be intimidating but the players as well.
“It’s intimidating to step on the field when the kids are like close to your height because suddenly you’re looking at a bunch of younger boys but they’re your same height and it’s really odd,” Glazer said.
“One thing that’s kind of intimidating is when there’s a really good pitcher or wild pitcher,” Busick said. It’s super scary when the ball comes and hits your face. I had that happen to me one time where the ball came up and hit my face and then my head was just shaking.”
Despite the challenges associated with the job, there are many factors that keep referees enjoying what they do. For Busick, seeing and teaching the little girls is what she enjoys most about being an umpire.
“There was this little catcher and I gave her some tips,” Busick said. I was like ’Hey keep your glove up.’ I love teaching [the girls] and they’re so cute.”
“When I was a kid, refs were not really that good,” said Roy who enjoys being a referee to better the experiences of the players. “I wanted to be a ref that stood out and actually made the games fair.”
“My favorite part is definitely the children,” said Weinhofer. “They are extremely cute to watch and I remember when I started playing soccer if the ref wasn’t in good mood then the kids weren’t. I just try to be a good role model for them. I want the kids to know that soccer is not just competitive and if you lose it’s not going to be the end of the world, but rather you can learn from it.”