Striving to climb the ladder in world of soccer officiating

Progress: Adam Wienckowski works as many as 15 college games a month, has done a few pro matches and is a possible candidate for future international duty.

Howard At Play

October 31, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Adam Wienckowski, stopping fast after a sideline sprint during an NCAA tournament soccer game last year at the University of Maryland, felt his feet slip and then, on the ground, pain.

The Elkridge resident, 29, with a growing reputation in as an assistant referee in the sport, had broken a wrist badly enough to require surgery.

"But I managed to finish the half," he said last week. "I know we're not the story [as officials], and I didn't want the game to be stopped with three minutes left in the half."

Wienckowski played the sport at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County and then with a mid-1990s club team at Virginia Tech. His team played in an adult league that, at one point, needed officials, and he volunteered.

"I liked it right away," said Wienckowski. "I enjoyed being around the game, being part of the game."

Since graduating from college in 1997, he has worked as an official, and for the past five years held a full-time job as a recreation coordinator for the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. His rec department duties include working with youth instructional sports, helping set up and run after-school programs and other instructional sports programs.

Much of his remaining time is devoted to soccer officiating. He works as many as 15 college games a month, has done a few pro matches and is a possible candidate for future international duty.

As an assistant referee, he is one of two officials on the sidelines of outdoor matches while the referee works the field's interior.

The job of assistant referee is being standardized and professionalized at the direction of FIFA, soccer's world governing body. Assistants carry flags to signal out-of-bounds, players who are off-side and personal fouls. But it is the referee - the man or woman "in the middle" - who has a game's only whistle and makes the calls. Assistant referees can be ignored or overruled.

Wienckowski works in the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association, doing games regularly at places such as Towson University, UMBC, Loyola, Goucher and Maryland.

He worked his first Major League Soccer game in August at Washington's RFK Stadium. He has worked eight Baltimore Blast games in the past two years, twice on the floor and the rest as a fourth official in Major Indoor Soccer League play.

"Essentially, it's a continual learning process," Wienckowski said. "The game is evolving every day, so we as referees have to evolve with it and learn more and more about the game."

Wienckowski said he is part of a group of three to eight people who meet regularly to talk about the job and ways to stay in shape and improve.

He said he benefits greatly from mentors such as Rob Fereday of Laurel, a familiar face to anyone in Howard County amateur soccer circles. Fereday, 42, who helped call a World Cup qualifier in Mexico last month, is a FIFA assistant referee - one of a dozen American officials certified to work international games.

Fereday and Paul Tamberino, a Baltimore native, three-time MLS Official of the Year and FIFA assistant referee who now directs professional assignments and assessments for the U.S. Soccer Federation, started a mentoring program that has helped several young officials such as Wienckowski.

"Adam has been to a couple of camps that U.S. Soccer puts on for assistant referees and did very well ... in Houston and Milwaukee," Fereday said. "That put him on track for going higher. They put you in a showcase, but you have to perform, and he went to both ... and performed admirably."

Wienckowski said he wants to keep moving up in the world of soccer officials - at some point getting to where Fereday is.

Reaching that level can be tough, given that a maximum of 10 assistant referees qualified for international matchups are permitted in the United States annually.

Fereday confirmed that Wienckowski is being considered as a candidate.

Meanwhile, Wienckowski said he is doing everything possible to climb the officiating ladder. That includes staying fit, given that assistant referees can log between three and 13 miles a game running to keep up with the flow of play.

"You need to be at 100 percent. ... The physical demands of the pro game are pretty intense," Wienckowski said.

He said he would love to work in the Olympics and the World Cup one day.

"I like [getting] to be part of the game at the highest level," Wienckowski said. "Hopefully, I can get even higher than I'm at right now. To be part of that level is a great feeling, and to know that you're contributing to this product ... it is essentially entertainment, but we have to get the calls right for it to be an entertaining game."

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