This year marks the 25th anniversary of USA Lacrosse. To celebrate, we’re revisiting some of our favorite magazine stories of the USA Lacrosse era on the 25th of each month. The following article was the cover story from our June 1999 edition.
Renee Scheide does not think twice as she rushes to the aid of a red, white and blue-clad woman, lying on the field in agony, her lacrosse stick strewn at her side. Fortunately for this prone U.S. team member, there is an experienced paramedic nearby.
Scheide gently clutches the player’s shoulder and, in one swift motion, pops it back into place. Moments later, play continues and Scheide, noticeable in her black and white women’s lacrosse official stripes, has not missed a beat.
“I use my skills on the field once in a while. If needed, I assist and then we get back to the game,” says Scheide, who has officiated women’s lacrosse since 1981. “A lot of times, the players are surprised and that’s really neat.”
Despite the demands of her position as a paramedic for the Baltimore County Fire Department, Scheide manages to squeeze about five lacrosse games into her schedule per week. Sometimes, as illustrated, her two careers intersect. “I work two days, two nights, and have four days off. It is really convenient with officiating,” explains Scheide.
Although it may surprise many players, coaches, and fans, Scheide’s hectic lifestyle is not an uncommon one for top-notch women’s lacrosse umpires. Most NCAA Division I and Division III umpires officiate five or more games per week on top of full-time jobs and family commitments. Take Middlefield, Connecticut’s Patti Klecha-Porter who is not only a mother of three children (ages 10, 7, and 4), but also works full-time as the field hockey and squash coach at Wesleyan University. Porter mentions that, because of a shortage of women’s lacrosse umpires in her region, she officiates a game nearly every day during the spring.
Graciously spending thirty precious minutes on the phone one evening, Porter describes her day. She is up by 6 a.m., at work until noon, on the road to Beantown for Boston University’s match vs. Harvard, in rush hour traffic on the return trip, picking up her children at 8 p.m., home by 8:30 and preparing her children for bed shortly thereafter. Porter and husband Scott admit that it takes a master calendar taped to the refrigerator to keep up with the family’s schedule. With such a hectic life, why does Porter choose to officiate women’s lacrosse during the bulk of her “free” time?
“I have a wonderful time umpiring. When I see a beautiful goal, I have goose bumps. I admire the athletes and can’t help but be amazed,” said Porter, who played lacrosse herself at Ithaca College in the early 1980s.
In addition to the grueling in-season officiating schedule that most of these busy people endure, the off-season can be just as challenging. Susie Ganzenmuller, an official from Potomac, Md., adheres to a strict fitness regimen throughout the long off-season. Her activities include swimming one mile per day, five days per week, teaching fitness classes, and participating in spinning workouts on the stationary bike. And if anyone thinks the work stops there, think again.
As the South Umpiring Chair for women’s lacrosse, Ganzenmuller is responsible for assigning officials to games in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, and much of the America East Conference. At the start of April this year, Ganzenmuller was already in the process of writing, stuffing and mailing availability letters to her region for the 200 campaign.
“I will finish next year’s schedule by August,” Ganzenmuller explains. “I get the schools’ schedules and make a master spread sheet. Some people have night jobs so I have to work around everyone’s schedules. I have also learned what games need to be covered by stronger officials.”
Ganzenmuller mentions that she tries to give younger, less experienced umpires a chance to officiate the highest level games when possible. That involves pairing one rising official with two veterans to keep the balance. To ensure that all officials are meeting necessary standards, they are required to take a written test each year given by the United States Women’s Lacrosse Association (now the US Lacrosse Women’s Division) on which they must score a 90 percent or higher to maintain their national rating. The test consists of scenario questions, the dreaded multiple choice, and true/false queries.
Officials are also put through an extensive on-field peer review process, some of which occurs at the annual National Tournament. By the way, all rated women’s lacrosse officials are required to attend that event each Memorial Day.
“Officials put in a lot more time than just going to a game. We volunteer a lot. We have to pay for our transportation to the National Tournament and to go to camps. It’s not just about going to the games and that’s it. We also do service at high schools and the youth levels to promote the next generations,” says 20-year veteran Peg Ryan of Northampton, Mass.
Many officials will agree that it is not the financial compensation that urges them to don the black and white stripes year after year.
Depending on their region, women’s lacrosse umpires are paid between $95 and $100 per game in Divisions I and III. Mileage is usually reimbursed at 42 cents per mile, although in some regions reimbursement is as low as 27 cents per mile. If an umpire travels more than 150 miles for a game, which happens quite frequently, he or she may receive a $30 per diem travel allowance for meals and expenses.
Because the women’s game is growing at a rapid pace, lacrosse officials are being spread thinner each year. Umpires from the East Coast are often flown, by the hosting school, out of their regions to officiate contests. Schools like Notre Dame are often faced with this due to their relative isolation from many of their counterparts.
“The traveling and juggling your everyday life in the compressed lacrosse season is very wearing. Not a whole lot of new people are moving up to do college games. It will take a tremendous push to get people to make a commitment,” says National Rules Committee chair Pat Dillon.
Dillon and others point out that, while in the past many top officials were schoolteachers and housewives, today’s women are often performing those duties on top of pressure-filled corporate jobs.
Dillon does technical services work for Maryland libraries and, with the help of a flexible boss, often uses vacation time and comp time to squeeze lacrosse games into her work schedule. Like others, Dillon may work extra hours one day to make time a lacrosse game the next.
Baltimore’s assigning official, Fran Trumbo, admits that she is “hooked” on umpiring. In addition to assigning officials for 29 Baltimore-area schools, Trumbo serves as a physical education teacher at the Liberty Christian School. Oh yeah, and she also has three children (ages 18, 15 and 12) and is the Athletic Director at Liberty. Trumbo credits Liberty’s principal for his constant flexibility and for encouraging Trumbo and others to get involved in their communities.
“I do six games per week. That gets hectic juggling my husband (David), home life and the children. They get shorted, but we do have summer,” says Trumbo. “My husband says I will be sorry in the long run. If I didn’t enjoy it and get fulfillment, it wouldn’t be worth the investment.”
The fulfillment comes in many forms. Connectiut’s Deb Martin is an assigning official for 33 Eastern colleges, including Yale, UConn, Cornell, Brown, Harvard and Dartmouth. Although her jam-packed life includes a husband, three children and a part-time job, Martin still manages to officiate six days per week. “I love it. I am so selfish. I could probably get a real job, but officiating is too much fun,” says Martin squeezing in a phone conversation between frantic calls to officials to cover the May 1 America East Tournament and making cupcakes for her son’s sixth birthday party.
Undoubtedly speaking for many officials, Trumbo describes being on the field as a “rush.” Like her fellow zebras, Trumbo thrives on the challenges that officiating presents. She recalls the Dartmouth College/Loyola NCAA playoff game played in May of 1998. After a dramatic comeback by Dartmouth, the Big Green pulled out the win in the second overtime period. “I was so into it. My concentration had to be right on because the situation was so intense.”
While the women’s lacrosse umpires profiled here are dedicated, hard-working, and committed to improving their on-field techniques, none claim to be perfect. Sometimes calls are missed and the officials certainly hear about it. “Our perspective is totally different from down low. If we could ref in a hovercraft, we’d be great,” says Ganzenmuller, referring to the futuristic skateboard used in one of the Back to the Future movies. Coaches and players are suspected of expressing opinions on controversial calls, but most officials say it is the fans that can cause the most anxiety. It is not uncommon for an official to be heckled by spectators and to even be subjected to personal attacks.
Ryan described a recent incident that occurred after a hotly contested Division I game. “I had one father follow me out to my car yelling obscenities at me. I didn’t like it and asked him ‘do I come to your work and harass you?” In a similar incident, Dillon and her officiating crew had to be escorted to the locker room after a parent from a losing team physically blocked their path from the field with a violent stance and harsh language. Most of these incidents occur, say the umpires, because the average fan does not understand the rules of the game.
Not surprisingly, another group reported to be hard on umpires is coaches. Although the women’s officials firmly state that it is a falsehood that an officials will try to make up for a bad call, most coaches seem convinced that arguing a call against their team will be rewarded with a favorable call soon after.
“It is a myth that we would change a call or even things up if a coach complains,” laughs Ganzenmuller.
“We only have a split second to make a decision and, right or wrong, we have to live with it. I always like to listen to the coaches and learn from my mistakes though,” says Martin.
“In a positive testament to the women’s lacrosse players of today, the umpires universally mention the respect that the young women show to them on the field. William & Mary coach Kim Lannon points out that players often reflect the behavior of their coaches. Therefore, if a coach treats an umpire with respect, her players will likely do the same.
“If the players see you working hard and you answer their questions calmly and help them, they respect that kind of interest,” says Dillon. Adds Ganzenmuller, “It’s actually the kids who play in the spirt of the game that make us look good.”
Despite the acknowledgement that players show respect to the officials on the field, most officials agree that players likely do not understand the effort that umpires must make to schedule games into their busy lives. In addition to working, attending to family commitments, and maintaining a social life, officials often travel four to five hours by car to referee a game.
“It does surprise me to know that most of the referees have full-time jobs outside of lacrosse. It must take a lot of time and effort to coordinate and schedule their hectic lives,” says Dartmouth co-captain Kate Graw. “I am sure that most players to not realize this. Players absolutely take refs for granted.”
Princeton’s Cristi Samaras wonders why officials and players do not have better working relationships. Her hope is that one day players will view officials as athletes, like themselves, who are contributing to a sporting event.
“Unfortunately, athletes participating in sports requiring referees do not really care whether they travel long distances or that they even have an outside life,’ says Samaras.
So how could the perspective on women’s lacrosse officials improve in the future? For starters, explains Dillon, schools must consistently take into consideration the time commitment that umpires and making and play the gracious host. Before an official arrives at a game, coaches and administrators should make an effort to ensure that locker rooms and towels are available for a post-game shower. Fans must not be allowed near the scorer’s table. Parking near the game field must be readily accessible. These small gestures and others could help to acknowledge the value that officials have to women’s lacrosse and the sacrifices they are making to add a positive contribution to the game. It is surprising, but true, that these gestures are not always made.
“There are not enough officials to go around. They are often underpaid and overworked a lot more than we want them to be,” says Amherst coach Chris Paradis.
Through the ups and downs, the travel, the full schedules, and the pressure, most officials would not give up their positions as lacrosse’s most involved spectators. Says Tim Bateman, a women’s lacrosse officials for 12 years, “The grace and beauty of the women’s game is unmatched in any other sport. And we get the best seat in the house.”