Folks, if you’ve been involved in soccer for any length of time on the high school or college level in this town then you know the short list of referees in the area. I am of the opinion that Springfield Soccer has a strong, committed group that deserves our support at the same level we support the players and coaches. It’s a 3-legged stool.
I’ve come to that opinion via the many hours I’ve spent shooting video the past four years. When there are controversial calls, invariably the ref is within the frame of my shot. The best example? How about Glendale vs Kickapoo October 4th. From this angle as well. I’m willing to believe the ref is in a better position then I am, or anyone on the sideline, to make the call.
Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I want to introduce the fellow who has chosen to pursue the opportunity and responsibilities of being a National Referee. Andy Ellsworth. It’s a short list and next weekend Andy will be one of 32 refs in Bradenton FL as part of a National Referee Academy being held in conjunction with the Nike Friendlies. He has kindly agreed to write several articles for this site, starting with this introduction to what it takes to become a National Referee. When he returns from FL we’ll get a taste of what it means to compete at the highest levels and his experiences at the Academy.
The Making of a Referee
I would first like to say thank you to my biggest supporters and fans. My wife Katie and son Gavin provide me tremendous support as well as patience in allowing me to pursue my journey up the referee ranks. I also need to thank my mentors that have helped me along the way. Jeff Kollmeyer, Steven Church, Gary Keisker and Ben Timson. These 4 gentlemen have been very instrumental in my development and have provided a great foundation of support. They helped me survive the first year where there is a 40% attrition rate for new referees.
I grew up in the West Texas town of El Paso. I played a number of sports but choose soccer as my sport of choice. I played in many tournaments in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. I also had the opportunity to play with a select team in a league in Juarez, Mexico. My soccer career ended when I started High School. El Paso did not offer soccer as a sport in High School, so I decided to swim. After High School I received a scholarship to swim at SMSU (MSU). After an 8-year break from playing soccer I returned to the pitch as a player in the Adult League that LCS offered. I played a couple of years and then had this crazy idea to become a referee.
I began to referee to help fill a void. When I became a referee in 1997 there were no referees from the age of 20 to 35 in the area. I was 27 at the time and thought I would give it a shot. I had a passion to play and watch the game, but never thought I would become â€œThe Man in Blackâ€. Just as all new referees, I started out as a Grade 8 (Entry Level) and worked youth and high school games. I was very nervous before my first match, but as soon as I blew the whistle all those nerves went away and I survived that game. Two years later I decided to upgrade to a Grade 7 referee, mainly so that I could referee local college matches. It is a requirement of the local college chapter (OISOA) to be at least a grade 7. I started to work the local tournaments and games in the local adult league. At this time I set a personal goal to become a Grade 6, State 2 Referee. To attain the State Referee Badge, a referee must pass two field assessments as a referee and one as an assistant referee at U19 or Amateur level. You must also pass a written exam and a fitness test. There were only a handful of State Referees in Springfield and I was eager to become one of a small group. State Referees have yearly in-service and assessment requirements to maintain the grade for recertification.
As a state referee I participated in the State Cup tournament and was selected to referee at the Region II Youth Tournament. After refereeing at my first Region II Tournament, I decided I wanted to work games at the highest level possible. I set a new goal to become a National Referee. But before I could get my National Badge I had to become a Grade 5, State 1 Referee. No other referee in Springfield had reached this level. I started working Division I college games for the Missouri Valley Conference. This gave me more high-level experience and a better understanding of the fitness demands to be a successful â€œman in the middleâ€. This is when I started to train hard in order to be in the best possible position. Part of that training included the Springfield Marathon.
I worked on increasing my game count to meet the requirements to upgrade to a Grade 5 referee. To upgrade to this level I had to pass 2 field assessments as a Referee and 1 as an Assistant Referee at the Division 1 Amateur level or higher. As a Grade 5, I was selected as one of 12 referees from Region II to Referee at the US Youth National Championship in Germantown, Maryland and was also selected to go to the 2004 Super Y League Youth National Championship in Orlando, Florida as part of a USSF Referee Academy. Every year the USSF Referee Department selects up and coming referees to participate in academies to see if they will progress to the next level. I have also worked professional Indoor games in the MISL. I refereed some super college matches during this time as well, one being an MVC menâ€™s play-in game between Tulsa #15 and SMU #17. I consider this match one of the best games I have ever been a part of. SMU won the game 1 â€“ 0, with a goal in the 81st minute. The next day I worked the MVC Womenâ€™s Final as the referee. What a weekend.
I continued to work on increasing my Amateur Division 1 games and was also assigned pro matches to meet the requirements to become a USSF National Candidate. The requirements to be a NC are 175 Amateur Division 1 games as a referee, 5 of those must be Pro games and 100 matches, 5 of which must be pro games as an Assistant Referee. In order to be classified as a National Candidate you have to pass 3 field assessments as a Referee and 2 as an Assistant Referee in Professional or Division 1 Amateur games. Once the game count and assessment requirements are met you have to submit an application approved by the State Referee Administrator to the USSF Referee Department for acceptance to the National Referee Camp in California. Once accepted to National Camp you must pass a written exam and a fitness test in order to become a National Referee. In 2005 all the hard work and dedication paid off and I attained my goal of becoming a National Referee. There are only 230 National Referees out of 145,000 USSF referees in the US. All National Referees must return to the camp every year to keep their National Referee Badge. National Referees must pass 2 field assessments as a referee and 1 as an Assistant Referee in professional level matches in order to return to National Camp, Each year at the camp we must pass the written exam and fitness test in order to reregister.
This summer I was selected to referee at the US Adult Soccer Association National Championships in Dallas, Texas and have also been selected as 1 of 32 referees to participate in a Premier Referee Development Academy at the Nike Friendlies in Florida.
I never anticipated getting to where I am as a referee. My passion for the game and dedication to training has helped me achieve the goals that I have set for myself. One of the other reasons I wanted to become a National Referee was to hopefully inspire other local referees. Who knows what the future holds, but the Academy I will attend at the end of November will be another test and opportunity for me.
Thanks Andy. I’m looking forward to hearing about the trip and sharing it with the readers of this site. As a bit of background on the upcoming Academy, this is from the US Soccer website:
U.S. Soccerâ€™s Referee Academy is a chance for 32 referees to be evaluated while learning what it takes to advance and work at the gameâ€™s highest levels. In conjunction, there will also be an Assessor Academy that will train six provisional national assessors. There will be six Coach/Mentors on hand to support the U.S. Soccer Referee Department staff develop the referees and national assessors. A select number of referees attending the academy may be chosen to work the MLS Combine and, from there, individual officials may be invited to join U.S. Soccerâ€™s referee pool for the professional level.