Finding fun in whistle-blowing

Referee: A former athlete discovers that the thrill in officiating lacrosse and field hockey comes second only to teaching others to do the same.

Howard At Play

September 30, 2001|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Whenever a field hockey official blows a whistle just about anywhere in Central Maryland this fall, chances are good that the sound reflects the tutelage of Ellicott City's Helen Moody.

For Moody, who might be behind that whistle herself, has trained many of today's officials in the sport throughout Baltimore, Howard and Carroll counties.

For three decades, she has officiated and taught many others to do the same -- starting in field hockey and branching into women's lacrosse. She began by officiating field hockey in Baltimore County in the early 1970s -- she doesn't recall which year. And eventually, she became one of the first assigners of officials there. "When I first started, high schools lined up their own officials," Moody says.

Then, in January 1978, Moody helped found the Howard/Carroll Officials Association, which assigned field hockey officials for those counties. Now she assigns officials for youth games, opting to officiate at the older levels of play.

When Howard County public schools added lacrosse as an interscholastic sport in 1988, the officials association assumed responsibility for that sport, as well. Moody also was an initial member of the Baltimore Board of Women's Officials, which assigns officials to college field hockey and lacrosse in the Middle Atlantic.

"It's challenging," she says of officiating. She switched to officiating after her playing days ended, she says, because officials were desperately needed. "I found it harder than playing -- you're on the ball all the time. Anyone who is an athlete should look into it."

Kathy L. Black, co-director of girls lacrosse for the Howard County Lacrosse Program, says, "I graduated 25 years ago, and Helen reffed me. She was so dynamic."

Inspired by Moody, Black became an official and officiated with her for eight years. Now she helps run HCLP and works with the summertime Hero's youth lacrosse program, as well.

"Helen is just wonderful," Black says. "Whatever we ask her to do, she does it. She gives clinics for the coaches, and she's great with little kids." Black points out that Moody is charged with keeping the rules straight for all levels of play and making sure that the referees know those rules.

"It's very smooth; there are never any bumps," Black says.

Moody learned field hockey in high school in New Jersey. In the 1950s, she went to Virginia Intermont College and started a club program there for field hockey.

"It was purely for fun," she recalls. "It wasn't competitive -- I wanted to play field hockey and happened to go to a school that had six sticks in the phys. ed. department."

She transferred to Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania, where she played basketball because the school did not have field hockey.

After college, through marriage and three daughters, she played for 10 years for the Baltimore Field Hockey Association, a club team that traveled to play teams in Washington, Virginia and Delaware.

"Field hockey is my first love," says the former right fullback and sweep.

She never played lacrosse, although today, given the sports' seasonal natures, many players compete in both. She tried playing lacrosse one weekend, she says, "but I didn't quite get that cradling part," referring to the practice of rhythmically moving the stick while running to keep the ball in the webbing.

She still likes the sport, though, explaining: "Women's lacrosse is far more pretty than men's. Men's lacrosse is like football with sticks."

When she is not officiating, Moody is active in 4-H, "the best thing," she says, her daughters did for her.

Moody won't reveal her age -- "I'm not ancient," she says -- but adds that she has two daughters who are 40 and four grandchildren. Age, she says, is not a concern because it does not affect her ability to officiate. She runs before the playing seasons to get in shape and does a little swimming.

Her biggest physical challenge was unrelated to either of her sports, she says. While water-skiing two summers ago, she fell; the tow rope from a trailing skier wrapped around one of her legs and tore ligaments.

"It took seven weeks of therapy, but I was running by Sept. 1," she says.

Moody has officiated every level of play, from youth games to state championship high school games to Division I college matches. Her 2001 datebook has 75 lacrosse games and 55 field hockey games that she has called or will work, and she will do as many as another 10 youth games. Some of the college dates require travel to Pennsylvania or Virginia.

The growing emphasis on women's sports excites her. "It's great that women have a chance for scholarships," Moody says, "and coverage is starting to creep into television."

But she finds disturbing what she calls an erosion of respect for officials. "It kind of astounds me when a girl questions or answers back," she says.

Her favorite part of officiating these days, she says, has become training tomorrow's officials.

She works one or two games a year with particular pride in her younger partner -- daughter Linda Hodiak, who shares her mother's zeal for officiating field hockey and lacrosse.

"I love doing games with her," says Moody. And one of her fondest memories was a game she called with Hodiak and her oldest daughter, Janet Gaglione, 40, now a former official.

"I've always put my family first," Moody says. "That was really neat."

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