On May 7, Helena Costa became the first female to coach a professional men's soccer team in the history of the sport in France. I was thrilled to read the announcement, not only because its historic importance, but because of what did not include: completely absent from the article was any mention of her height, body style, hair color, fashion sense, or other meaningless traits too often included in articles involving women. Even better, there was no suggestion that Costa was bossy; at least not yet, and hopefully not ever! Bravo, Coach Costa! Bravo!
I remember when I was in college back in the 70’s, I attended USTA professional women's tennis tournaments sponsored by Virginia Slims, a popular cigarette at the time. It's memorable slogan - "You've come a long way, baby!" - is precisely that same sentiment that resonates with me today, not only for Costa's appointment but for the countless millions of women who are, at this writing, actively leaning in and stepping up in their respective careers in sports, business, and politics. (The recent news that the National Football League had passed on a chance to name its first full-time female official, Sarah Thomas, shows that there are still a lot of glass ceilings that need breaking!)
The momentum created by these women gives me pause to reflect on my own journey as a sports official. What I see both excites and disappoints me. In assessing my progress during the decade that I have devoted to learning the craft of basketball officiating, I now realize that, while rich with self-discovery and life lessons learned, my focus has been too narrow. Instead of just asking how I can become a better high school basketball referee, I think the better, larger question for me to ask myself going forward is, "What can I do to help other women?"
Women helping women
The answer to that question, at least to this point, is sobering: I have not done nearly enough, and need to do more. In fact, other women have helped me more than I have helped them. In particular, there were two female coaches who had an impact on me. The first, Coach Nicole, was a very successful and well-respected girls' varsity coach. She approached our association in the spring one year seeking officials for a new summer basketball league she had formed for elementary school girls. Her goal was not only to help develop girls' basketball skills at an early age, but leadership and teamwork skills as well. I don't remember what happened to her request but I do recall the discussion over rates and our unwillingness at the time to lower fees in light of the high demand for our services.
In hindsight, I wished I had fought for her cause. Coach Nicole is one of a handful of memorable female coaches who helped me develop as an official. She and others like her demonstrated class and professionalism, even during the heat of competition and disagreements over calls. Unlike some of their male counterparts who single out and "test" rookie officials, Coach Nicole, NEVER took that approach. When Coach Nicole transferred to another school, I sent her an email to congratulate and thank her for her professionalism and downright kindness towards me. Her response was that of unexpected surprise. And she THANKED me.
Another varsity coach, Coach Judy, invited me to officiate the final game in her summer girls' basketball league. I knew Coach Judy personally, and she was aware that I was very new to officiating. Still, she wanted me to be a part of her program and I will never forget how she introduced me to her players before the game. Coach Judy introduced me as a person who “ does high school basketball now, but may do college ball one day.” She described me as person who continues to learn, take risks and set goals. I realized then that Coach Judy was using me as a role model of sorts for her players, and I was honored.
Opportunities to help other women in basketball are infrequent, at least for me. This may be due to the isolated nature of officiating, or maybe its just my experience. But whatever the case, the two coaches and their impact on me is undeniable and inspires me to do the same for other women whenever and wherever I get the chance.
Recently I supported an LPGA tournament hosted by our local club by volunteering as a scorekeeper and as a host to one of the out-of- town golfers. In a three-day span, I experienced more energy and the emotional high of empowerment than in ten years of basketball officiating. I worked side-by-side with other women who were equally passionate about their sport, and actively engaged in ensuring the success of the tournament.
Despite the fact that there were still more males than female volunteers, women represented the core tournament leadership. And just knowing that I was supporting 149 female golfers was enough for me to volunteer double duty on the first day of the event. I initially thought that being on the scorekeeping team would be the most interesting and active part of my volunteer experience. I was wrong.
I hosted one golfer, Marianne, who joined the LPGA tour only a year ago. I learned about her journey from South America to attend high school and college here in the United States. At a young age, she lived away from her family for several years while she pursued her dream of becoming a professional golfer. I was impressed with her achievements, and even more impressed with the fact that she had to learn to speak English while rooming with other international student golfers who were struggling equally with our language. She shared with me her love of the game, her love for her family and her intense travel schedule. She did not make the cut in this tournament, but took the disappointing result in stride as she planned her schedule for the upcoming months. The highlight of her visit for me was an invitation to caddy for her the next time she is in town! I cannot wait!
My role as volunteer does not begin to describe the true role that I was called to perform. I was not only a volunteer, but a sponsor and friend for a young women who want to make a living in the game of golf. I look back on the event and realize that my journey a and development as an official has led me here for a reason, a reason I am only beginning to understand. I know that helping other women is not only a goal, but a responsibility, and one that I accept willingly. My quest to achieve varsity status continues, but now with more energy, renewed focus and an unbridled enthusiasm to do whatever I can, on or off the court to help young women succeed.