Monday, March 23, 2015

Reflections of a Referee: Northwest Regional Championship

By Patrick Fuller

I had the privilege of reffing during the Northwest Regional Championship (NWRC) as a head referee and I must say, it was one of the most positive experiences Ive had as a ref. That’s not to say that other tournaments Ive been to have not treated referees well, but there was something different about the atmosphere of NWRC. I’ve thought about why this was for a while, and I’ve come to a few realizations that I hope to put into words here.

This was my first official tournament where I did not referee at least one game under the scrutiny of an examiner. The Northwest has been pressed for referees for almost the entire season. Not to say this is anyone’s fault; the region is just out of the way and it’s difficult to get out here, so it was a huge blessing that we had three referees reach certification a month before the regional championship. This is all tangential to my point. I’m sure that this is obvious, but reffing outside of an exam situation is more enjoyable. I felt myself worrying less about being spot on with my protocol for referee meetings, giving out penalties and making correct calls in order to pass my test. I could focus more on helping the game flow. It all felt more natural, and I’m sure teams that I’ve reffed for in the past and at NWRC can agree—especially Boise State Thestrals, of which I officiated three of their four round robin games. One player came up to me after the closing ceremonies and told me how impressed his team was with my reffing style, especially since he felt I was rather lackluster at the Clash in the Cascades tournament. I’m torn by the fact that I must agree with him. I noticed it with all of our head referees. We all seemed more relaxed. I was pleased with every game my team played, and not unhappy with calls that were made. More focused referees meant that players were happier and showed more respect toward the reffing team.

On and off the pitch, Northwest teams show an amazing amount of respect for officials. Being Canadian, I feel that I perpetuate the stereotype that we say sorry a lot, but the players on the pitch last Saturday had me beat. Whether it was a call for a penalty, a warning, or even a no harm no foul, players would be apologizing to me. After games, teams would come and thank me for presiding over their games, and would even compliment me on my reffing. I feel like this was a trend that held throughout the tournament, as I observed my own team and their opponents cheered for referees after the game and thanked them for their services. I think this respect stems from the leadership in the region. The seven teams up here are affiliated with five different programs, and I know that the heads of the organizations at these schools push for a good understanding of the rulebook and a no nonsense approach to respecting officials. It makes games a lot easier to referee. I’m fairly certain that the University of British Columbia, Western Washington Wyverns and Boise State all scrimmage with a referee during practices, and it goes a long way toward making officials feel appreciated. It’s not all just the head referees, though, as we had tremendous support from the volunteers as well.

This may go back to team leaders pushing their teams to learn the rules and support the referees, but the amount of volunteers at NWRC was amazing. Anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of each team came out to volunteer during the copious amounts of games played. For some tournaments this may not be a good thing, since there are bound to be many inexperienced or uninterested referees amongst that number. But I was surprised at the quality of volunteers. I especially have to give a big shout out to the Western Washington Wyverns, who I feel have some of the highest quality assistant and snitch referees in our region. When placed in high pressure situations with tough calls, I never had a problem asking volunteer referees what they thought. It even got to the point where my snitch referee had to make a game deciding call, and she did so with great confidence. All this is to say that the showing for volunteers at NWRC was a step above what you tend to see at some large scale tournaments. I feel that this helped keep us on schedule, and made reffing games a lot more fun and rewarding in my eyes.

That’s enough of me rambling on about why I felt that my NWRC experience was awesome. I’ll spend the last bit of time breaking down probably the best game of the night: the final between the Boise State Abraxans (BSA) and the Western Washington Wyverns (WWU). First, I must give props to Ra Hopkins, who head reffed almost non-stop all day. It’s because of this, though, that I was approached right before the final and asked if I could officiate instead. Both Ra and I were exhausted, so it came down to a game of chance on who would end up being head referee. I’m not sure if I lost or won out on that one, but either way it fell on me to be the head referee for this major game. Going into it, I was a little nervous for what the atmosphere of the game would be. Both teams are known to play rather physically when they need to, and with a high pressure game like this, I thought I may be handing out cards left, right, and center. Instead, the match was quite clean. Boise’s contact is pretty spot on for legality, with only one incident of a clear illegal tackle, and WWU did not really play a particularly physical game. On the Wyverns' side, I gave only one penalty for clear neck contact that was accepted without complaint. The two warnings I gave were followed by the typical “sorry ref” that I had grown used to all day. Once I hit my stride, the jitters went away, and I feel that I reffed my best game all day. It was a real confidence booster to know I could handle a more high stakes game than the round robin style matches and scrimmages I’ve grown accustomed to. In the end, Boise took it down with its impenetrable zone defense around the hoops, and slower method of offense. WWU’s more unorthodox style of play, though formidable in it’s own right, wasn’t enough to take down the juggernaut that was BSA this weekend. Props to both teams for keeping up their energy all day long and giving us one hell of a final match.

Looking back now, this was one of the greatest weekends of quidditch I have experienced. The spirit and competitiveness of every team made for some awesome matches, and the camaraderie shown afterwards made me feel closer to my region—despite the prestigious title of Northwest Regional Champions being on the line. I look forward to seeing what the Northwest will bring in the years to come, and I feel that every qualifying team will put up solid results at the World Cup this year. With that, I’ll see you all in South Carolina.

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