|Lezley Smith, who began refereeing in an intramural league, is in her 24th year as an official.|
We are using this blog during the 2019-20 academic year to bring you profiles on the unsung heroes of GNAC athletic competition -- the referees, rules officials and officiating supervisors without whom the games could not occur. These Q&A's are intended to heighten awareness for this critical aspect of amateur sports while celebrating the efforts of those individuals who are giving back to the game through the avocation of officiating.
This initiative is part of a comprehensive strategy by the NCAA DII Conference Commissioners Association to 1) bring attention to the crisis-level shortage of officials affecting amateur sports and 2) promote the benefits and rewards of officiating by implementing a national recruitment effort within the division.
For more information on how to become an official, we encourage you to visit the following links or reach out to your local officiating organization:
Now, on to our Q&A with GNAC women's basketball official Lezley Smith.
Name: Lezley Smith
Hometown: Mercer Island, WA
Years as an official: 24
Conferences currently working: GNAC (Division II), Big Sky (Division I), NWC (Division III), Cascade (NAIA), NWAC (JC)
Describe your competitive background in the sport of basketball:
I started playing basketball in junior high and continued through high school. I also played intramurals in college and in leagues post-graduation.
What was it that attracted you to the world of officiating?
Help was needed in the intramural league in which I was playing.
What were the initial steps you took to pursue a career as an official?
The intramural league in college asked that each team provide one person to officiate and they would train us. One of my teammates and I decided to do it together.
What were the preparatory steps you first took to launch your officiating career?
I was working at a temp job at the local university after completing grad school and still officiating intramurals. My boss was reffing high school basketball. He asked me if I was ready to start officiating for real and I said, ‘sure,’ since I really didn't have much going on since graduating.
What do you remember about your first “real” assignment as an official?
I don't remember much from my first ‘real’ assignment, but there are several things I remember from my early years. The very first recommendation I was given before being sent out to officiate intramural games was to have a strong whistle. In the local high school association, JV officials were observed by varsity officials and the feedback was to take about three years learning and then go to a camp to get better. That worked for me as I'm always about being the best I can be.
What was it that prompted you to move into the intercollegiate ranks?
I was so oblivious about what it meant to go to an officiating camp. I was going because I was told that it was a way to help me improve. I didn't know all camps were not created equal and some of them involved potentially getting hired by the assignor that was holding the camp. So, I was offered an opportunity to join the intercollegiate ranks by the camp director which really caught me off guard, but I was very excited.
As an official in any sport needs to become a rules "expert,” what approach did you take to learning the rule book inside and out?
Rules "expert" ...I'm far from it. I'm still trying to get there. In the early days, I would take the opportunity to take the required rules tests as an opportunity to read the rule book from cover to cover one time and then rely on basketball IQ to get by. As this is no longer acceptable, when people ask me what I'm reading, I tell them the NCAA rule book. I read it throughout the year (hard copy and electronic copies on my phone and iPad), different sections that I desire to focus on. When my peers have rules meetings, I clear my calendar to be able to attend. When I have odd plays happen, I reference the rule book to see if we adjudicated the play correctly. When I watch games on TV and I see odd plays, I reference the rule book. When I review my own game video, I reference the rule book for certain plays, and I have a FlashCard app that I use to make flashcards for rules that I'm trying to master. It's a work in progress for sure.
What are some of the things an official in your sport does throughout the year to stay up to date on the sport from an officiating perspective?
Reading Referee Magazine, reviewing updates on the Arbiter hub from the NCAA national coordinator of officials (including summer camp teaching points and rules clarifications) and sharing clips with peers and mentors.
Can you outline a typical officiating year in terms of the number (and classification) of events you typically have on your calendar and the travel involved?
I typically start preparing for the season in September. September and October are busy as I help run an officiating camp, my local high school group runs a camp where I am an on-court and off-court clinician, I get involved with study groups, work some rec games to focus areas I have identified, and I have preseason meetings to attend. In October I'm trying to work scrimmages, I host an evening or role-playing for my peers and have preseason meetings to attend. November brings a slow ramp up into the season with non-conference games beginning and running through December. January begins conference play and the business ensues. I typically am on the court 4-5 nights a week. Travel all depends on where the assignments are and booking flights accordingly as needed. Late February early March brings a slow ramp-down as conference play ends and playoffs and tournaments begin. Late March I turn into a fan and watch as much basketball as I can. April and May I try to get on the court working some boys’ high school leagues to get ready for camps in May and June. July and August are my months off.
What have you found to be the biggest challenges as a college official?
I think the biggest challenge is finding balance. The balance between my day job, family, home commitments, and officiating commitments.
Describe an aspect of college officiating that the average person or fan doesn’t realize?
I don't think the average fan realizes the amount of time and energy we spend working on our craft, preparing for games, doing what it takes to be the best we can be to provide the best service we can for the teams involved and that we really don't care about the outcome of the game. We want to be consistent and fair in each game we officiate.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in officiating? What should be the first steps?
I would encourage them to give it a try. It is a way to stay involved in the sport you love, I call it a good paid workout, you learn skills that are useable in your daily life (leadership, relationships, etc.), and you make lifelong friends. The beauty of officiating is you can work as much as you want or as little as you want. It's great if you aspire to work intercollegiate or professional games, but its also OK if you prefer to work just high school. To get started, reach out to an official that you might see at a game and ask if they have contact information or contact your local high school sports association and they can help you get in touch with an officiating association. That's one of the challenges I've heard is knowing how to get started.