Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reflections From a Midwest Referee

By Austin Pitts

First things first, I’m a realist. And because of that, I want it to be clear that my opinions are by no means indicative of those of Kansas Quidditch; they are purely my own thoughts. 

I was asked by Andy Marmer to talk about my experience as a referee at the Midwest regional championship. Due to the size of our region, and the WONDERFUL isolation of Kansas, the only Midwest teams that I had been able to see before the regional championship—discounting both of the University of Kansas’ teams—were University of Missouri and University of Minnesota. As a head referee, most of my experience had been with Southwest teams, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect out of both gameplay in general and the treatment of officials once I traveled north—especially due to current events regarding referees.

There recently was an uproar in the quidditch community regarding the treatment of officials by teams. Apparently, there were multiple instances of officials being disrespected, and this led to people from all over the community pitching in their two cents. Most people stepped up to the plate on the side of the officials, calling for more respect from teams. Personally, I haven’t been impacted by this supposed problem. For myself, putting on those zebra stripes becomes another layer of skin. As someone who has officiated a variety of sports and age ranges—from 5 to 6-year-old T-ball, to collegiate intramural flag football—I’ve developed a thick skin to comments from coaches and players. The amount of flack I’ve received about my strike zone in Little League Baseball trumps anything I’ve been a part of or witnessed during my (relatively short) quidditch career. That being said, I did notice quite a bit of, let’s say, whininess from teams regarding calls that could have gone either way—compared to some of the Southwest teams I have officiated. While I am more than willing to listen to captains and coaches who feel as if a close call should have went their way, there is a line between respectfully giving your opinion in a valid manner and outright complaining when every little thing doesn’t go your way. As a referee, I will always call things the way they were seen by myself and my assistants, but routinely complaining over little things has a tendency to sway those close calls toward the other team, no matter what level or what sport you are playing in.

That being said, there were gameplay observations I was able to make from my perspective as a referee. As head referee, it’s hard to actually analyze a game from the perspective of “Player X carried his team while the beating of Team Z was especially bad with the snitch on pitch”, but I was able to glean a few things based on the common penalties I noticed. The most common rules infractions from the games that I was head referee for centered on illegal tackles: initiating tackles from the back, below the knees, or above the shoulders, and also tripping players during tackles by entangling their legs with those of the ball carrier. Seriously, to any player who reads this—this is a yellow card. Don’t get your legs wrapped up in those of the person you’re tackling. It is tripping, and should be carded. Coming to the regional championship, I shared a similar belief that many people outside the region have: that the Midwest can’t tackle, strictly from what I had observed during film study. Being able to witness other Midwest teams firsthand quickly changed, as the cards given out suggest. Teams were able to tackle, and did, both legally and illegally. Although the teams, however, quickly showed that they could tackle, the cards given out brought up another issue. While games I officiated before the Midwest Regional Championship had their fair share of illegal tackles, those illegal tackles resulted more from physical play and an intense play, especially when compared to the tackles I saw at that weekend. Ultimately, the illegal tackles I witnessed were the result of bad form and bad positioning. As a former football player, I take a lot of pride in tackling and consider it a vital aspect of the game. Players regularly did not drive after their initial contact, resulting in sliding down the body of the opposing quaffle player and tripping them. Players not used to getting their head across would back tackle quaffle carriers running at an angle away from them. While the Midwest was able to tackle, it doesn’t seem to be a priority of teams, and that is a skill that needs to be addressed by most of the Midwest teams if they want to make a splash in April.

While this may seem like a harsh critique of the Midwest, I do believe that, overall, the region is stronger than last year. I had the honor of being an assistant referee in the finals between Bowling Green State University and Ohio State University, and that game showcased some of the best the Midwest has to offer in both quaffle and beater play. Being charged with watching the beater wars between the talented beaters on both teams was both exciting and stress-inducing. When considering the hot topic of respect for officials, in the most high profile game of the day—with both teams fiercely gunning for a championship—I received the most respect as an official I had all tournament. Both teams’ captains, coaches and players were incredibly polite, even when disagreeing with calls. While tempers may flare during heated rivalries, as a whole the Midwest shows lots of mutual respect for one another, and that is a great sign.

As a region, the Midwest did fairly well last year at World Cup VII. Coming into the regional championship, I wasn’t sold on a repeat performance. With the Southwest consistently getting stronger, and teams in both the eastern and western regions showing improvement as well, I had pegged the Midwest as the region on the biggest decline. While the Midwest Regional Championship didn’t wash away all of those fears—and even revealed some weaknesses in the region—it did provide me with a sense of regional pride for the level of play from most teams. Not only does the Midwest seem to have quite a bit of talent, but it has also managed to nearly completely avoid the outside drama that other regions might be subject to. As both a player and a referee, there’s not much more you can ask for.

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