Sunday, March 29, 2009

Making the Right Call

Is it too harsh to say I’d like to do my entire career as a rugby referee again?

I became a ref for a lot of reasons: I loved rugby but wasn’t very good at it, I’m really good at following rules, and the best referees have been known to get free trips to Fiji and other glamorous locales where rugby rules.

My first game, officiating over two teams of high school girls brand new to the sport was brilliant. They loved me, I loved them, and all the other refs at the tournament patted me on the back and welcomed me to their world. I felt the sun smiling down on me as I shook the girls’ hands after the game, congratulating them and telling them they did a fine job. One girl stayed late to talk to me about reffing and my playing career, and I applauded myself for being such an outstanding role model. It was a few hours before I realized that I’d spent the entire game calling her team by the wrong name.

Of course, high school girls aren’t the only ones who play rugby. Most players are men, the big burly ones of stereotypes, many of whom have been playing at least since I was a high school girl.

Once I got into a fight with one player over some of my calls, calls I proudly stood behind until the end of the game, when I didn’t call a minor infraction just to get back at him. The teams that day were criminally unmatched: PAC a national powerhouse, and Rocky Gorge a bunch of past-their-prime enthusiasts whose website proclaimed “Win or lose, we still booze.” I can still see the ball falling from the hands of the PAC player and landing on the ground in front of him. I can still feel the eyes of everyone on the field as they turned to see what I would do. I did nothing. I let them score the try, despite the infraction, then I whistled to end the game and beat a hasty retreat.

It was a long time after that before I returned to reffing, but as a favor, I volunteered to ref a men’s college game. At least college men were, for the most part, younger than me. At the beginning of the game, a senior ref asked the captains how it felt to have the prettiest ref in the union officiating their game. The two boys looked at me, then back at the ref, confused.

It only got worse. I awarded an undeserved try, then, just in case anyone on the pitch was still on my side, I called it back. When the game was over, a player who had been three years behind me in college came over to pat me on the head and tell me to stick with it.

I never reffed again. And if I ever get to Fiji, I’m pretty sure I’ll be paying my own way.

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