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Arguable calls cause society to question referee neutrality

A referee explains a call to Williamston junior Logan Fennech during a home game between Haslett-Williamston and Holt, April 26

A referee explains a call to Williamston junior Logan Fennech during a home game between Haslett-Williamston and Holt, April 26

Photo: Ashley Dyer

Photo: Ashley Dyer

A referee explains a call to Williamston junior Logan Fennech during a home game between Haslett-Williamston and Holt, April 26

Story: Kyle Looney, Staff Writer

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Before the Haslett-Williamston boys varsity lacrosse saw a last second goal by Williamston junior Logan Fenech called off, the boys were already rushing onto the field with excitement. But the referees let the April 14 play go without stopping to reset. Waverly took the ball out of the crease and ran the length of the field to score the game winner in OT.
“We can’t blame the refs for the game, but (after) that called off goal (the referees) should have stopped play and had us reset,” junior Cam Best said.
For the lacrosse teams, the inexperienced referees made the beginning of the season harder than it should have been. The referees are what the teams rely on for neutrality and intelligence with their calls and can easily lead to a win or loss to that team.
Principal Bart Wegenke has been a basketball referee since the age of 16 and has been a Division One ref, now onto Big Ten games this season, since he was about 20-21 years old. It takes a rigorous amount of training to become a ref at the Division One level and involves climbing the officiating ladder. It involves starting with at least 10 league games then working about 1,000 to 1,500 games to get to the Division One level.
“A lot of my training meant me going to camps and being evaluated by veteran referees or supervisors,” Wegenke said.
And with lacrosse being a newer sport, and even still being a club sport still here in Haslett, getting experienced referees can be a little difficult. Notice is sometimes short and the sport is not as popular here as compared to on the East Coast.
“The pool of officials probably isn’t as big right now as it might be in five years because it is so new of a sport,” Wegenke said.
Being in that position, coaches and players that have a well-rounded knowledge of a sport like lacrosse are very critical when it comes to the end of games at the varsity level.
“In the end it is a real biased point of view because whether you are a coach or a fan, who do you want to win? Your team,” Wegenke said.
There is going to be debates that it was the refs’ fault or it was not. Competition can bring out the blame when things go awry and fingers are often pointed at the referees. Some of the refs are just not experienced enough. The veteran referees can spot the plays that seem to be missed by the newcomers or anyone.
“I’m probably, on a basketball court here, going to ref the game a little differently than most of the guys (high school refs) that come here,” Wegenke said. “But I have the college experience that the others don’t have.”
Like any sport, the learning process for a new referee can take at least a couple seasons. Usually, the first two years can be the toughest and involve officiating as many games as possible to gain experience.
For lacrosse, to ref at a regional match, the official must have attended or officiated at least 10 varsity games. For semi-final and final matches, he or she must have attended or officiated at least 10 varsity games and have attended the rule’s interpretation meeting and have an approved rating classification.
“We will either have really good and equal refs or refs that seem like they have never even heard of the sport before,” varsity lacrosse player junior Kristin Canfield said. “I understand where the refs are coming from (without experience), but they also have to understand that we know the sport and they can’t act like we don’t.”
Players compared to people watching, such as fans and even coaches, get a different feel of how the game is being officiated and the quality of the officials.
“This year especially it seems like they are pretty bad compared to previous years,” Canfield said. “We have talked to (junior teammate) Bianca’s (Kinder) dad, who’s a ref and talked to the officials board about how bad they have been and requesting for some new ones.”
It is all on opinion and the referees sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve when trying to keep up with the pace of the game. Calls can be missed and plays can be executed inefficiently, having an equal amount of responsibility to do their part for the game.
“Have you ever been an official?” Wegenke said. “It’s really easy to place the blame on a win or a loss, mainly a loss on an official.”
Referees need to have the will and patience to be able to be make calls and be OK with the following actions of fans and players. Mistakes are going to be made and all they can do is make a literal judgement call on what they think is right and stick to it.
“As an official you have to be able to be OK with everyone not liking every call. If you think you got it right, then you got it right,” Wegenke said. “If maybe you didn’t get it right then I think, as an official, just saying to the coach or player, ‘I called what I thought was right but I might have kicked it.’”
The idea of consistency has to go both ways for the players and the referees. Officials want to see consistent, clean play from the both teams just as the teams would like consistent calls and being fair.
“I just want both teams to have an equal opportunity to win that game,” Wegenke said.

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Arguable calls cause society to question referee neutrality