High school lacrosse season began this week. As I coordinate my referee costume (don’t repeat this description to other men referees), obvious is that even though lacrosse is a spring season sport, one has to prepare for winter, spring and summer weather and, periodically, for all three during the same game. For last night’s game, I wore gloves, leggings beneath my lined pants, two pair of socks, a vest and two long sleeved shirts all of which were camouflaged by the familiar black striped shirt and hat. The game began at 7:45 pm in 32 degrees temperature. By 9:30, blowing the whistle was an achievement of lip, breath and finger dexterity. Monday’s game will be played in near 70 degree weather which will present the short ensemble: pants, socks, shirt sleeve length.
I referee high school lacrosse games, both women’s and men’s. Same game, worlds apart. Anyone surprised? The men’s game is about managing contact as the boys wear helmets, thick gloves and thin pads on the arms and shoulders. The women’s game discourages, even forbids, contact. Their variant of the game is committed to skill which comes with rules, lots of rules. The boys have their rulebook, for sure. If a ref enforced every rule or called every foul, a boys game would last longer than a cricket match presuming that not all players had fouled-out of the game in order to last that weekend.
Sports develop character and teach us about ourselves, the Fields of Eton notion. Refereeing a sport can be equally revealing about our true selves as this role requires a mixed breed of self-love, servitude, leadership, intentional deafness and a smiling distrust of each and every human being on the field and at the sidelines that you volunteered your free time to be with.
There is one law of lacrosse that all referees are taught. When the game concludes, leave the field directly and immediately. Accept a salutation or a kind word of thanks as you keeping moving towards the parking lot. I know this to be valuable advice because of the one time that I paused on the way to my vehicle to congratulate one coach on a game well-played. Her school’s team was new to the sport, the outcome of the game required three overtime periods and her girls played well and fairly into the twilight of the evening.
“Good game, coach. Well played,” I said.
Without hesitation, she replied, “Do you know how many F@#$%G calls you missed today?!” It didn’t seem like she meant only 1 or 2.
I don’t think anyone heard her besides the 15 players on her team, 10 or 12 of their parents in the stands and a guy walking his dog across the street from the field. Incredibly, I was inclined to answer her non-question. Luckily, I realized that she was yelling at The Ref and not at Christopher. I nodded with diminished authority, pivoted and marched to my car. I want to believe that the radio and closed windows disguised my screaming at her in retort. Then I enjoyed a 90 mile drive from Greenville back to Durham.
A broad range of men and women qualify to be lacrosse referees. Many are school teachers and PhD candidates. Most played the sport at some level, particularly the women’s referees. How else could one learn the rules and the application of the rules! Many of the referee’s on the men’s side are also football, basketball and soccer refs as it seems that $55 to $65 per contest can add-up nicely. Some refs are confident of their knowledge of the rules and manage the game from this base; others rely on their own playing pasts, tending to ‘let them play’, although the attention to the potential of head-injuries in all contact sports has reduced such interpretive perogative. In short, there are mandatory fouls for hits to and about the head. Fields of Eton, indeed!
The best referees call the game as they see it. They are not looking for a game to turn-out a particular way as though there is a pattern to be followed. They would rather miss a call then to make an unnecessary call and players prefer this approach. They don’t want to be influential in the game or even noticed at the conclusion of the game (Mr. Perrien seconds the motion). The superior referees have compelling presence and are credible even when they are mistaken. All refs make mistakes in every game.
When the helmets and the eye guards are removed; when the crosses are put down; when the kids rush their goalies in celebration, they all become suddenly so young to me. Or I’ve just became twenty five years older as suddenly. The transition from armored athlete to high school, fun-loving jock is instantaneous.
A similar transformation happens to referees. They metamorphose from demigod and the keeper of the peace to a building contractor or a county employee in the distance between the goalie’s cage and the parking lot. A well refereed game is a combination of suspended disbelief and pursuit of common objective. I guess that character is built by characters.