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Referee Stories


Hi, Coach Dan again. Last week I talked about my descent into madness becoming a referee. Today, I wanted to share a couple anecdotes that I think may amuse you.

So I reffed around the Southwest Section (Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana primarily) for a few years and started getting a little recognition as a decent referee. This happened maybe 1998 or so at the Poujardieu Memorial held at (then) Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. I was refereeing a semi-final match between two fencers we’ll call Joe and Lou[1] who have a little bit of a history – which is to say Joe generally beats Lou, and Lou doesn’t like it.

Regardless, Joe was winning 14-13 and Lou was methodically working his way down the strip after him. Joe threw out a point in line to slow the advance, Lou beat it and took a step forward, Joe threw a second line, and Lou started an advance lunge that hit Joe. I said the second line was established in time, Lou took exception and after some debate punted his mask to the other end of the gym. It was a beautiful kick. Probably traveled 75 feet in the air with lots of hang time.

Anyway, there’s 4 levels of penalties in fencing, creatively named Group 1, 2, 3, and 4. Group 1 is minor things, Group 4 is the things that get you kicked out. Things like punting a mask 75 feet. So I gave Lou his black card. Then, Lou realized that he could have earned a better rating if he hadn’t punted that mask, and he followed me around the rest of the day saying aw, geez, he was sorry, couldn’t I please change my mind. I didn’t; his rating did not increase that day.

Second story, a few years later I’m reffing another semi-final bout, this time in Oklahoma. The bout was between Sam, a former Olympic and World Cup fencer, and Ned, a promising junior fencer[2]. The bout wasn’t really that close, but at some point an action happens and words start coming out of my mouth describing it. I wasn’t even close. Exactly wrong, one might say. And I knew it as soon as I said it, that I had mistakenly given Sam’s touch to Ned. So did everyone watching it. So Sam lifted his mask, pantomimed Ned’s action, and asked if I was calling that an attack. I replied I guess I just did. Sam stared at me a couple seconds, came back en garde, and proceeded to finish beating Ned.

Both times I made a call, one right, the other wrong. Both times I stuck to my call because if referees start changing calls, it becomes a debate tournament. It’s not always easy to make snap decisions that affect the outcome of tournaments, people can take those things personally – I know I have as a fencer and a coach. But it’s an important job to the smooth running of a tournament and with practice the referee helps a lot of people have a pretty good time. Unless you black card them – no one likes that.

[1] Standard not name disclaimer

[2] Same deal on the names