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July 17, 2009

This "Her Space" column by Clare Lochary originally appeared in the June issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 300,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

Lochary: One and Done

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

As my humble high school lacrosse career was winding down, I thought I'd found a great way to stay connected to the game: umpiring.

I had a great mentor named Patti who took me under her wing. She let me help her with some games where the kids so were young they had to be pointed towards the proper goal when they were awarded possession. I loved it - it was good fun, good exercise and good money.
Then I tried umpiring a high school game. Sweet fancy Moses, never again.

After a spring of working youth games, Patti felt I was ready to graduate to high school. I started, and ended, my career as a high school-level umpire one summer day at the Park (Md.) School.

The games I officiated had no far-reaching implications, but the crowd was positively bloodthirsty. It was open season on zebras, and I was the lame little runt stumbling along the edge of the herd.

The fans booed my calls and made some choice comments about my intelligence and sense of fair play.

I was 17 years old and looked 12, and clearly a trainee (I wore a different uniform than the full-fledged refs), but the adults in the crowd let me have it just the same. I'm sure I was doing a sub-par job, although as I recall a lot of the complaints were that I wasn't "calling it fair," which is usually the accusation of only the most partisan fans.

I was so upset and down on myself that once the game mercifully ended, I stripped off my stripes for good, hopped in my car and drove away as quickly as possible. It's easy to believe the worst about yourself, when you're a teenager trying something new and scary. I stopped returning Patti's calls. Eventually she stopped making them. And there was one less ref in the world, and one more hindrance to the growth of the game.

For some, heckling the ref is half the fun of attending a game, but when you've been on the receiving end of it, it's not fun at all. Like anyone else on the field, umpires should be supported.

Every time you scream that the ref is a nearsighted moron, you're guilty of that exact charge yourself. Flinging negativity around a field where kids are trying to play and have fun is counterproductive. Look at the big picture, and keep it to yourself unless you believe a play was truly dangerous.

If basic manners aren't enough to convince you to be kind to the zebras, consider that they are something of an endangered species. There are 197,989 women's lacrosse players in the country, according to US Lacrosse's 2008 participation survey, and only about 3,879 umpires to police them all.

The widespread availability of good umpires is crucial to making lacrosse bigger and better. Even in lacrosse-crazy Colorado, a dearth of referees kept five Mountain League schools about two hours west of Denver from going varsity for years, due to Colorado High School Athletic Association regulations. (They played their first varsity season in 2009.)

So if your blowhard best convinces an umpire that she is, in fact, a misinformed idiot in need of an eye exam without even a passing familiarity with the rulebook who should turn in her whistle on the spot, it means less lacrosse for everyone. Furthermore, if you hold up umpires as figures of ridicule and not respect, young laxers won't consider it a fun option for when their playing days are through.

US Lacrosse is working hard to nurture good referees and good sportsmanship. Training referees is pretty straightforward - we have the Officials Education Program and clinics across the country to train and perfect. Discouraging negative cheering is a stickier business. The Men's and Women's Division Officials Councils instituted a Sportsmanship Card in 2005 that can be issued to a player, coach, fan or group of fans who promote bad behavior at youth games, but bureaucracy alone can't solve a cultural problem.

Obviously I don't have the constitution to be an umpire. I am glad I tried it, though. I have my beef with some of the actual rules they must enforce (How come the goalie is the one person on the field who I can't hit in the head with the ball? She's the only one with a helmet! Technically it would be OK if she hit me in the head with a clear, so why can't I hit her in the head with a shot? I'm getting off track here....), but I have tremendous respect for the umpires themselves.

Keeping a steady head and focusing on safety and fair play amidst a fast-moving game is a talent -- -- one that should be respected and encouraged.

Pick up a whistle and give officiating a try. Click here to find out how.

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