Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reflections of a Referee: MW/NE

By Martin Pyne

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to the Midwest and Northeast Regional Championships as a referee. If you were there, I was the guy wearing a zebra jersey with a “PYNE” nameplate and a West patch on my right arm.

The most obvious difference between my native San Francisco area and both regional championships was the weather. It's rare to play a California quidditch game under 60 degrees Fahrenheit, while I don't think either regional championship broke 50. I occasionally wear a long-sleeved shirt under my referee jersey at home, but here the long-sleeved shirt was also under a jacket and a hoodie (I went with my Snow Cup III hoodie, which remains the coldest quidditch I've ever experienced). The temperature doesn't really get me that badly when I'm head reffereeing a game, though—it's more of an issue between games or in slower-paced assistant referee slots. And the bulkiness of all of those extra layers is noticeable, especially when raising my arm for a goal or a penalty.

Ah yes, penalties. Most of the tournaments I have been at this season—and let's face it, most of the tournaments I'm at every season—were populated by California teams that I knew quite well. When I'm reffing (in any capacity), I've got a pretty good idea of how each team plays and who's the most likely player to spend time in the penalty box. Obviously that's something I try to put out of my head before each game, and there are plenty of times that the only fouls in a game will be from somebody completely unexpected, but it's impossible to mentally approach a local game the way I approached most of the games I had these two weekends. In person, I'd only seen these Midwest and Northeast teams at most twice before (World Cups VI and VII). As a result, I came into many games with minimal foreknowledge of how each team played (and as a referee, that's often different than “what's this team's favorite strategy”). I think that's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I'm not going to have any (or at least way fewer) subconscious biases going into each game. On the other hand, it also means that I'm not going to have as much of a warning if a game is likely to get nasty, and I'm not going to be able to as effectively prepare my assistant referees to deal with any particular teams’ quirks. Most of the penalties I actually ended up giving were fairly standard physical contact calls, and it seemed that most teams had gotten the hang of the Rulebook 8 changes, although there was one World Cup qualifying game where I had to stop play to sort out a keeper being beat in his own keeper zone after retreating into it.

The heavy variability of assistant refereeing was another one of my big takeaways from the past couple weekends. Unlike at a local tournament, where pretty much everybody who officiates in any capacity knows each other, at an unfamiliar regional championship I have to go with whatever referee crew is scheduled. For both the Midwest and Northeast Regional Championships, most assistant referees were only designated by team (instead of by individual), so there was no way I was going to know who was in my particular referee crew for any given game until game time. This was fine for some games, but in a sport where the single most important call of the game often has to be made by an assistant referee, I'd like to know that my staff will be able to assertively make calls and know what to look out for before starting the game. I'll admit to a little hypocrisy here, as the first tournament I ever assistant refereed at was Western Cup IV—but we all had to sit through a pre-tournament Skype training session, which I thought was really helpful. That all being said, I'd like to give a big shout-out to the referee crews I was a part of in the later parts of the second day of each regional championship for working together super effectively.

Lest this all sound too negative, the vast majority of games I both officiated and spectated were predominantly clean and marked by a high degree of sportsmanship. One of the best perks of officiating is that you've got the best seat in the house for the game (well, at least the part of the game that's your primary jurisdiction). Watching some of the top teams in their regions go at it was well worth the trip, and, while it's obviously not the same, I actually really like being the referee for a couple of obviously newer teams playing each other—seeing the sport grow is super satisfying. While obviously there was some complaining about calls (I admittedly usually tune benches out while head refereeing, except for that one time when somebody was yelling “Beat X!”—sorry, but you need to communicate with your beaters in a way that isn't a ref call), overall most teams in both the Midwest and Northeast were respectful and appreciative of game officials. A lot of Northeast teams do a “Thank you, refs! Thank you, snitch!” chant after games, which on one hand I appreciate, but on the other hand makes me wonder how badly I'd have to screw up to not get one. The biggest thing that I think teams need to work on is giving referees a chance to make calls. If I'm in the process of raising my hand (or even have my hand up), you shouldn't be screaming for a penalty, because I'm already giving you one; similarly, if you've got a potential goal that I want to confirm with my assistant referees, don't yell at me that it went in (or whatever) when you could be picking up the rebound and dunking it, thereby making my call obvious.

I'd like to particularly thank Aleia Wright and Lisle Coleman for giving me somewhere to stay for, the Midwest and Northeast Regional Championships respectively. In general, it was great to see a lot of people in the Midwest and Northeast (and other out-of-region volunteers who I almost never get to talk to outside of games) that I don't get to hang out with in person very often. I'm hoping to see some of you sooner rather than later, but if not, I hope to see most of you at World Cup in April!

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