Referees tackle a job with fouls

Officiating: For many sports officials, their hardest call may be whether to stay in the stripes.

Howard At Play

March 31, 2002|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Marty Sinclair's career as a soccer referee had scarcely begun before she thought it should end. That was in 1998, when she was in college.

Like many others in her sport, Sinclair said she nearly became part of the high attrition rate that she heard in officiating "school," which wipes out as many as 50 percent of new officials during their first seasons.

"There were two or three times when I almost quit," said Sinclair, who played club soccer at Virginia Tech. "I went into it with a real naive attitude, that I wouldn't have any problems because I played for so long. But soccer parents and soccer spectators are really some of the worst."

Sinclair, however, made it. Quickly, as her officiating resume indicates, she has established herself as one of the nation's top young female soccer officials.

Now 25, she has called games at every level of the game in the United States, from youth leagues, to high schools in Howard County, to men's unlimited ball, to Atlantic Coast Conference college games, to the pros, in the Women's United Soccer Association, which will open its second season in June.

"The first year is tough, but then you learn to take it," she said in a sampling of several Howard County officials in search of why those get past that first season tend to stay. "Two things that made a real difference were having a good mentor and watching professional referees get yelled at. [Spectators] just yell, because that's what they do - not because you're doing something wrong. They'll yell at anybody."

Despite the often publicized negatives associated with officiating - such as dealing with overzealous coaches, players and fans - those who stick to refereeing, whatever the sport, become addicted in a sense.

Typically, officials played or coached in the sport, or both, and they wanted another way to give back and stay involved.

They enjoy watching the athletes whom they officiate develop as they grow and relish the relationships and friendships they cultivate as a result of officiating.

Others, such as wrestling referee Kevin Meville, 26, of West Friendship have additional motives.

"As a wrestler, I've seen officials dictate a match," said Meville, who wrestled for Mount St. Joseph High School, the University of Kansas and Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. "I wanted to become one to give kids a fair shake."

Meville, who just completed his sixth season of officiating wrestling at the high school level and in junior leagues, agreed that his first winter on the mat as an official was the most difficult.

"The first year, you're a little nervous, because it's a different look," said Meville, who has coached at Glenelg High School and was an assistant at Mount St. Joseph. "As a coach, you view things differently after you've officiated, because it's a totally different perspective. I was always the type of coach who got on officials. Not anymore."

The referees agree they are not in it for the money.

"You can't make a living at it," said Jerry Komin, 66, an Ellicott City resident who has officiated baseball, basketball, soccer and softball over 32 years.

Sinclair, who credits her job at America Online in Northern Virginia with giving her the flexibility she needs to be an official, said she makes as little as $12 a game when she officiates youth leagues. On the other end, she earns up to $150 a game plus expenses for her WUSA work, and up to $300 a game for officiating in the ACC.

Basketball official Bob Zmijewski of Ellicott City, who operates a landscaping business, said he earns $20 to $55 a game, depending on whether the contest is at the recreation level or high school varsity or junior varsity.

Zmijewski, 50, who is known around Howard County as "Bob Z," has officiated high school basketball for five seasons after working recreation league games for 10 years. For Zmijewski, like many other officials, the biggest reason for his continued involvement is devotion.

"I absolutely love the game of basketball," Zmijewski said. "For me, to be on a court with these kids, some of [whom] who play at a very high level, it's a hoot to be out there. It's one thing to see a great play from the crowd or on television. It's another to be on the floor when it happens.

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